We’ve all had a headache at some point or another. While not uncommon, suffering from chronic headaches can make daily life difficult. But did you know that physical therapy can help you with headaches, even if you’ve had daily or weekly headaches for years? I have had patients who’ve come to me with complaints of daily headaches for up to 20 years. Don’t let that be you!
Migraine vs. Mechanical Headaches
It’s important to distinguish what type of headache you have. If you suffer from migraine headaches that involve sensitivity to light and sound, vision changes or auras, and cause nausea or vomiting, then you may need medical management. But for many people with headaches, they are what we call cervicogenic, as in, they originate from the cervical spine. They can be felt as pain in the neck and base of the skull, and you may feel pain projected into the temple or behind the eye. Movement can exacerbate pain and the muscles in the back of your neck can refer pain into your head. You’ll likely refer to your headaches as “tension headaches,” because you can tell the tight muscles in your neck and shoulders give you pain.
If your PT can recreate your headache with head and neck movement and with palpation to the muscles in your neck and skull, then you’re on the right track. Sometimes releasing tight spots in those muscles, called trigger points, can be just the trick for short-term relief. Longer lasting relief involves improving the muscle function in your neck and upper back. Often, I will work with patients on their thoracic spine mobility in addition to strengthening any noticeable weaknesses. For example, I once had a patient who had headaches for years; we learned that moving her thoracic spine was all she needed. I worked with her in quadruped (hands and knees) on her thoracic rotation and mobility, and she went from daily headaches to once or twice per month.
Posture is Important, but it Isn’t Everything
You’ll hear a lot about posture playing a role in the reproduction of neck pain and headaches. There is some truth to that, especially if you spend a lot of time in one position without changing it. Your cervical muscles work hard every day simply holding your head up. I’m not the type of therapist who will tell you to have perfect posture all day long, because that isn’t sustainable or reasonable. What I will say is that you should pay attention to your head position when you start to get headaches. If you can tie the onset of a headache to a forward head, or perhaps you tilt your head to once side, or perhaps you hold the phone up with only one shoulder – these are clues into how you can change your habits to decrease your symptoms.
Physical therapy may not cure your chronic headaches, but if we can decrease the intensity or frequency, why not try it? Contact us today!