Headaches are a complex and often confusing form of pain. What most people don’t realize is that many forms of headaches are the result of tight muscles, stiff joints and poor posture. Treatment for headaches focuses on improving mobility of the joints or muscles of the neck, increasing strength of the neck stabilizers and improving posture.
Headaches are one of the most common reasons that people see their primary care physician and they account for 20% of outpatient visits to neurologists. People with chronic headaches report disabling symptoms that interfere with daily activities. Headaches can be classified into 2 catagories: Primary and Secondary.
- Tension Type
- Hemicrania Continua
- Trigeminal Neuralgia
- Temporalmandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
- Cervicogenic Headaches
- Tension Type (musculoskeletal component)
- Myofascial Pain Syndrome
- Trigger Points
Common Treatments of Headaches in PT
A thorough physical therapy examination attempts to determine the type of headache and to define the neuromusculoskeletal factors contributing to it. Muscle tension, joint dysfunction of the neck and jaw, cervical disc degeneration / herniation, poor posture and stress are factors that can be addressed and treated by a skilled therapist.
If you are a headache sufferer and you are looking for a way to manage your headaches beyond using medication, talk to a trained and experienced physical therapist about possible conservative treatment options.
Manual physical therapy addressing muscle tension involves the release of trigger points, stretching the involved muscles and soft tissue, and restoring normal muscle function. Trigger point release can be accomplished with both manual and instrument assisted techniques.
Treatment of spine dysfunction may include mobilization/manipulation of the spine or jaw and the performance of stabilization exercises of the neck and shoulder girdle. Strengthening and stretching exercises to assist in correcting postural alignment are also often necessary to reduce the abnormal tension and compression that these tissues must endure. Most cervicogenic headaches that refer symptoms forward of the top of the head arise from the upper most segments of the cervical spine.
Decompression of irritated joints and discs throughout the cervical spine as well as of the nerve roots exiting the spine helps to relieve pain and inflammation leading to and perpetuating headaches. Treatment of spine dysfunction may include mobilization/manipulation of the spine or jaw and the performance of stabilization exercises of the neck and shoulder girdle.
Treatments emphasizing heat, ice, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound individually or in combination can help to interrupt the cycle of pain, swelling, spasm, and tightness in the soft tissues and joints of the head, neck and jaw.