Physical Therapy and Tension Headache Pain
Physical therapy is likely to benefit patients who suffer headaches due to musculoskeletal problems of the neck and/or jaw who exhibit poor posture.
Pain can be produced in the head in two ways. The first way is referred pain. This is the pain that can be referred from the muscles and joints of the neck.
For example, the upper trapezius at the top of the shoulder can be problematic to headache patients. Overuse during activities, such as computer work, can lead to the development of trigger points or muscle spasms that can refer pain up the neck and into the temples.
Tight neck muscles may also cause ringing or the feeling of fullness in the ears. Stress may cause increased tightness of the neck and jaw muscles, which can also contribute to headache problems.
Another way headache pain can be produced is through structures in the neck. Pain and discomfort in the neck from muscle tightness and dysfunction due to poor posture or weakness of the upper back muscles can trigger a headache.
By treating the problems in the neck or jaw, improving posture, and strengthening the upper back and neck muscles, the hope is to decrease or eliminate the headache triggers.
How do physical therapists treat headaches
Physical therapists who are knowledgeable and experienced in treating patients with headaches will perform a careful history and examination to determine what kind of treatment may be most helpful. The goals of physical therapy include normalizing the musculoskeletal system to reduce tension and stress on muscles and joints.
If, for example, trigger points were to blame, the therapist would work on stretching muscle fibers and reducing muscle tone. Posture, alignment, and strength would also need to be addressed, as faulty mechanics in this area can lead to headaches.
Joints of the upper cervical spine can also refer pain into the head due to injury from an accident or due to increasing pain and stiffness over time. The goal of the physical therapist is to improve the mobility in your joints and correct muscle imbalances, poor postures, and help you identify and change daily habits and behaviors that may aggravate the condition. Instruction in individually tailored exercises is an integral part of therapy.
Modalities such as ice, heat, ultrasound, traction, and electrical stimulation may also be used as an adjunct to treatment.
Physical Therapy and Migraine Pain
For the individual with classic migraine headaches with clear triggers and neurological symptoms, the benefits of physical therapy are unfortunately often limited. Certain physical modalities such as ice, relaxation and massage may reduce the pain temporarily. If the feeling of tension and discomfort in the neck accompany the migraine, stretching exercises can be useful in helping reduce the discomfort.
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