How Headache Pain Can Be Treated With Physical Therapy

February 24, 2023

pretty african american woman holding hands near head while suffering from headache in bedroom

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably have a headache at some point this year. It may be mild, just a throbbing in your temples after a difficult day. Or it could be a severe migraine, with pain from the top of your head and throughout your neck.

Headaches can have many causes: food, allergies, stress, oral health problems, balance issues, concussion, muscle tension, hormonal fluctuations, nerve compression, cervical spine dysfunction, disorders of the jaw joint and muscles (TMD and TMJ), nerve disorders, temporary illness (i.e., flu), medical conditions, side effects of medicines or other causes.[1] If you have frequent headaches, consult a physician to determine the root cause.

Is your body triggering your headache?     

It may surprise you to learn that the root cause of some types of headaches, including migraines, may be caused by muscle or joint issues in your face, neck or back. In these cases, when the trigger for the headache pain is bio-mechanical, physical therapy can help to correct the root problem and relieve the pain.

Muscles in your cervical spine (neck) or the jaw can become rigid or inflamed from overuse – even sitting at a computer with your head at the wrong angle can cause significant pain in the neck and headache pain. The headache may seem to be causing neck pain, but the opposite is true.

Joints and muscles work together and thus cause issues together – both must be addressed in physical therapy to control or eliminate headache pain. A physical therapist works to restore joint mobility, correct muscle imbalances, or retrain the patient in physical activities that may have caused the problem, including posture.

How physical therapy treats headache pain

  • Biomechanics retraining: Movement retraining to correct abnormal running, walking or other actions.
  • Postural correction: Work and home modifications, such as a lumbar roll for sitting, height adjustment of a computer monitor or a supportive neck pillow for sleeping.
  • Therapeutic exercise: Exercises at home and in therapy to improve endurance, reduce pain and inflammation, and promote healing.
  • Manual therapy and massage: Hands-on manipulation of joints and limbs by the physical therapist to decrease muscle and stiffness, and restore mobility.
  • Pain relief: Ice, heat or ultrasound.

If you’re struggling with frequent headaches, make an appointment with our headache specialists at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation. Call 1-888-44-REHAB (73422)  or visit our Headache Treatment and Headache Relief page to get started.

[1] Physiopedia, Other Primary Headaches