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Chronic Headaches? Physical Therapy Can Help!


Headaches can be a very common condition worldwide; in fact, the World Health Organization estimates that about 50% of adults have a headache disorder each year. They further estimate that about 4% of adults experience headaches 15 days or more a month. In addition to the pain associated with these episodes, severe or recurrent headaches can significantly impact one’s ability to focus and participate in normal daily activities.

But what can be done about these headaches?

Unfortunately, many types of headache exist and can have a wide range of influences, including stress, hormones, genetics, and other lifestyle factors. As a result, it can sometimes be challenging to identify the specific issues that are provoking the headache symptoms. For complex headaches and migraines, assessment by a physician who specializes in headaches may be helpful to determine if certain foods or activities are contributing to the pain and if medications may be helpful to manage symptoms. Referral to physical therapy may also be a treatment strategy.

PT treating patient for headachesTherapy can be very helpful in treating tension headaches, which typically originate in the back of the head and may radiate to the forehead or eyes. These headaches may be related to weakness in the neck and shoulders and improving posture can greatly reduce this discomfort. These headache pains are often related to pain originating in the muscles in the back of the neck and head. Manual physical therapy treatments and a personalized exercise program can be very effective for management of these headaches.

In many cases, a therapist may ask questions about work conditions or other daily activities. This can often help the therapist determine if poor positioning or posture is contributing to the headaches. Suggestions may then be made to improve desk or computer position, workspace setup, car seat alignment, or other modifications to help improve comfort and reduce strain on the neck and head. In many cases, these adjustments can be very effective in reducing discomfort at work and during normal daily activities.

hockey players collidingHeadaches are also common following concussions and patients may be referred to physical therapy after a concussion to help relieve these symptoms. Concussions may happen after any head trauma but are common after sports injuries or car accidents. Interventions to improve visual tracking as well as education to help modify daily activities during the early stages of concussion recovery can help to reduce these symptoms. Given their traumatic nature, muscle spasms and poor neck mobility may result after a concussion and contribute to headaches as well and many individuals benefit from the manual treatments described earlier. A careful assessment and personalized treatment plan can help to improve comfort with neck motion and reduce stiffness following an injury.

While their causes may be complex, often a collaborative approach is helpful in managing recurrent or chronic headache pains. This allows a comprehensive treatment plan to address the causes and contributors to the headaches.

Hopefully, reading this blog post was not a headache! But if you or a loved one do experience recurrent or severe headaches, Access Physical Therapy is here to help. Our therapists are expertly trained and ready to help their patients recover and return to the activities they love. You may not even require a prescription from your physician. Call your local Access Physical Therapy office today for more information.