Different types of headaches:
Any type of pain that occurs within the head can be referred to as a “headache.” Most headaches will resolve on their own without medical intervention; however, severe or recurrent headaches that interfere with one’s quality of life should most certainly be evaluated further. The challenge lies in identifying which type of headache you’re experiencing and then devising a treatment plan accordingly. Physical therapists are adept at diagnosing different types of headaches and can develop pain relief strategies for stress-related headaches.
There several different types of headaches that can be treated with physical therapy. These include, but are not limited to:
- Stress (tension)
- Migraine or sinus
What are stress-related/tension headaches?
Tension headaches are some of the most commonly treated headaches by a physical therapist. They occur when the neck and scalp muscles contract or become tense, and they can happen at any age. Stress-related headaches generally start at the back of the head and progress to the top of the head and eyes, sometimes accompanied by facial pain along the jaw and cheeks. This type of discomfort has been compared to having hair pulled or wearing a very tight hat. These types of headaches can occur as a result of:
- Increased stress.
- Poor posture.
- Neck or jaw problems.
How physical therapy helps:
At your initial visit, your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your physical abilities, in addition to reviewing your health history. He or she will ask you a series of questions to determine the type of headache you’re experiencing. After your physical therapist determines what type of headache you’re dealing with you’ll work together to develop a treatment plan for meeting your physical health goals.
During your first visit, you can expect to undergo some of the following:
- Inquiries about the location of the pain, in addition to any other symptoms you are experiencing.
- Questions regarding previous injuries to your neck, head, jaw and/or back.
- Measurements regarding the range of motion of your shoulders, neck, and other relevant parts of the body.
- Examination of your posture while engaged in different activities.
- Tests of your muscle strength and sensation.
- Manual therapy to ascertain the mobility of joints and muscles in your neck.
A physical therapist’s mission:
While the end goal of physical therapy is pain relief, there are some important steps along the way that your physical therapist will help you with, in order to decrease pain and improve function. These include, but are not limited to:
Posture improvement. Your posture throughout the day greatly impacts your likelihood for pain and stress-related headaches. Your physical therapist will teach you methods of improving your posture in order to function more comfortably in your daily life.
Strength improvement. You’ll learn exercises to help strengthen the muscles that control your neck and upper back, in order to improve posture and increase your ability to stand or sit comfortably for longer periods of time.
Neck improvement. Using manual therapy, your physical therapist will stretch the muscles in the back of your neck to relieve pain and increase movement.
Different types of physical therapy treatments
Your physical therapist may suggest any combination of specialized treatment services, including but not limited to:
- Heat or ice compressions.
- Soft tissue mobilization.
- Muscular releases.
- Muscle energy techniques.
- Body mobilization.
- Cervical traction.
- McKenzie-based therapies.