There are thousands of different types of headaches. Some types are primary headaches, such as migraine or tension headaches. Some types are secondary headaches, such as cervicogenic or medication withdrawal headaches. With secondary headaches, the head pain is being caused by another dysfunction or problem somewhere else in the body. The most common option for headache management is medication, both prescription and over the counter. And, while these medications are often appropriate and needed, many people who live with chronic headaches may actually benefit from physical therapy.
Many headaches have a physical component to them, often in the form of neck dysfunction, impaired soft tissue mobility of the muscles of the neck and head, and even dysfunction of the TMJ. Additionally, many types of headaches have a postural component to them, as the muscles and joints of the back and neck become weak and tight from leaning over our electronic devices for hours each day while at work and school.
A physical therapist is skilled in working with the anatomy and biomechanics of the human body. An evaluation would include a review of your medical history and headache symptoms, posture assessment, neck and upper back range of motion, soft tissue mobility (including looking for trigger points - sensitive parts of a muscle that, when tight, can refer pain to other parts of the body, including the head), joint mobility, and muscle strength. A physical therapist will also assess how you move and note any abnormal movement patterns that you may be demonstrating. They may even look at your jaw and how that joint is functioning.
Next, the physical therapist will create a treatment program specific to your needs. Treatment interventions may include strength work, posture training, body mechanics and ergonomics instruction, soft tissue and myofascial work using their hands or assisted with instruments, mobility work, joint mobility, and movement re-education. Using these interventions to correct the problems found at your first appointment will help to decrease headache frequency and intensity. The goal with physical therapy should be to educate you, as the patient, with as many tools and resources as possible to become independent at managing your headache symptoms.
To see 3 of our favorite neck exercises for headache management, check out this video
If you are living with chronic headaches, physical therapy may be a beneficial intervention for you. We offer complimentary discovery sessions at the Smith Balance + Concussion Center to review your symptoms and screen you to determine if physical therapy may be beneficial for you. Let us know if you have any questions!