Overcoming Headaches

Headaches are a broad term to describe pain in any part of the head.  There are several categories of headache, including:

  1. Tension-type headache
  2. Migraine Headache
  3. Cluster Headache
  4. Sinus Headache

While most headaches are harmless and resolve on their own, severe headaches that recur frequently can affect your ability to perform daily activities and may reduce your quality of life.  There are effective treatment strategies of addressing all types of headaches.  However the challenge is diagnosing the right type of headache.  Through a series of questions and clinical tests, a well trained physical therapist can help identify the type of headache that is being occurring.

A physical therapist can be effective in treating tension-type headaches.  These types of headaches can be due to a neck or jaw problem, poor posture, fatigue, or stress.  These are the most common type of headaches in adults.  A problem in the neck, head, or jaw–such as an injury or arthritis–can lead to tension in the muscles at the back of the head and to increased pressure on the nerves to the face and head.  Poor posture can cause these muscles to become overworked, which can trigger a headache.

In our physical therapy office, the first recommendation that we usually make is identify environmental factors that could be precipitating headaches.  These might include poor workstation ergonomics, stressful home or work circumstances, or daily activities that place the body in a sub-optimal position.  When possible, changes to the environment can allow for inflammation to settle and the tension to subside. While making changes usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they may be avoiding, we have to address the musculoskeletal components.

In many cases, headaches are coupled with poor mobility of the neck and the t-spine. This can be combined with weakness of the muscles of the shoulder girdle.  In addition, if there are imbalances at the core and hip muscles, the posture can be affected which may lead to tension in the head, neck, and shoulders. However, the only way to know what is contributing to pain and injury is to perform a complete assessment.

When pain and stiffness is found via the assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Improvements can be made very quickly if the right regions are targeted. If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients to develop stability of the postural muscles under load.

When addressed with a through physical therapy assessment and plan of care, tension-type headaches can resolve relatively quickly.   However, when pain persists, the longer it can take to address and resolve. If you feel like you may be have tension-type headaches, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to provide a through assessment and give you a diagnosis for your condition. If the assessment indicates that you may have a different type of headache–such as sinus, migraine, or cluster headache, we will refer you to another health care professional for additional diagnostic tests and treatment.  We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your headache is affecting you and discuss your treatment options. Call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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