Almost half of the population suffers from headaches, with 3% experiencing them chronically. Living with migraines and tension, cluster, and cervicogenic headaches (secondary headaches arising from neck issues) leads to a decreased quality of life, but there are practical physical therapy treatments that can help improve your pain.
Which Types of Headaches Can Physical Therapy Help Resolve?
To date, hundreds of studies show the benefits of conservative physical therapy for the treatment of headaches. Physical therapists most commonly treat cervicogenic headaches, or referred pain headaches—so called because the headache pain is referred from another area of your body. These secondary headaches happen as a result of nerve, bone or muscle problems in the neck.
Cervicogenic is definitely primary type of headache that PTs treat, but I also tend to treat patients with true migraines that can be secondary from high stress, autonomic nervous system dysfunction driven from impaired breathing
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are at a higher risk of developing these headaches, and should speak to their doctor about adding physical therapy if their arthritis is in the upper cervical spine. Physical therapists can also treat headaches triggered by stress, postural alignment, inflammatory processes, and more. How Can Physical Therapy Reduce Headaches?
Many headaches peoples experience actually start out as a pain in other areas of the body. Some of the ways physical therapy helps with these secondary headaches are through:
Office Ergonomic Assessments
The way you work and the equipment you use could be a source of headaches. Poor posture often puts strain on your back, neck, and head muscles, leading to body aches that can trigger a headache. A formal ergonomic assessment by a licensed physical therapist can help address these issues.
Manual Techniques for Realignment
Misaligned spines lose some of their mobility, potentially causing nerve compression, joint inflammation, and pain that can bring on headaches. Your skull is also made up of different bones that can move out of shift subtly and contribute to headaches. A realignment by a physical therapist can relieve the resulting secondary headaches experienced from these conditions.
Breathing Pattern Changes
Have you ever seen a baby breathe? Their belly goes up and down. Babies use their diaphragm muscle, a muscle found beneath the lung that helps with breathing, when inhaling and exhaling. Postural changes over time can drive shallow breathing patterns causing compensation through neck muscles. This chronic muscle activation in the neck can cause stiffness and pain driving headaches. As we grow into adults, stress causes us to take shallow breaths that tense upper chest and throat muscles and deprive the brain and body of oxygen. A physical therapist can work with you to change your breathing patterns to both increase your oxygen levels and help reduce stress.
Postural Endurance and Joint Position Sense Training
Many of us are guilty of having poor posture when standing or when looking down at cell phones and tablets. But your posture affects how your whole body works. Postural endurance and joint position sense training help alleviate pain in many parts of the body, including headaches, by keeping your spine and joints in alignment and reducing body pain.
Start PT For Headache Relief
Dr. Greer Mackie has specialized training with treatment of headache of all populations and can assess your issues to create a tailored treatment plan.
To stop headaches in their tracks and gain back a better quality of life, contact Heather Lane Physical Therapy today. We create a tailored physical therapy program toward reducing your headaches. Call us today at (720) 507-3962 to schedule your appointment.