Physical Therapy Can Help You Head Away From Chronic Headaches
The term “sick headache” might have been coined to describe exactly how you feel today — and every day. A one-off headache encounter can be distressing enough, but frequent or constant headache pain can completely disable you. Many of these headaches have underlying musculoskeletal or biochemical causes — which means that they can be corrected through the right forms of treatment. In many cases, physical therapy turns out to be just what the doctor ordered for chronic headaches.
Anatomy of a Headache: Understanding the Underlying Causes
What is a headache, beyond the simple definition of a pain in the head? There are actually several categories of headaches, each with its own distinct causes and symptoms.
For most sufferers, chronic headaches mean tension headaches. A tension headache can be triggered or aggravated by emotional tension, but the actual mechanism involves physical tension in the muscles of the neck. Tight or strained neck muscles can go into spasm. When spasms overtake certain tiny muscles near the base of the skull, the resulting tugging action irritates a membrane called the dura mater. The dura mater then responds by flooding your head with a vaguely pounding or aching sensation.
Weak or underdeveloped neck muscles may be naturally vulnerable to tightness and spasms. Accident injuries (including whiplash) can push the skull off-center in relation to the neck, subjecting the neck muscles to abnormal stresses. (A headache that specifically involves the upper cervical spine is termed a cervinogenic headache.) Even routine postural problems can cause neck strain and tension headaches. For instance, if you stare down at your smartphone for hours each day, you can develop a painful problem known as “text neck” which also promotes headaches.
Other kinds of headaches, while less common, can prove even more debilitating. Cluster headaches are a prime example. These intense headaches strike one side of your face in clusters of attacks. These headaches have been associated with cervical spinal abnormalities.
Migraines are even more notorious for causing nausea, light/sound sensitivity, faintness and vision problems on top of brutal headaches. Migraines sometimes occur as a complication of concussions; they are also triggered by exposure to specific stimuli such as lights, sounds, or foods.
How Our Physical Therapist Can Reduce Your Discomfort
Our physical therapist can help you get to the bottom of your headache problem. If your headache is cervinogenic in nature, we may need to work on your neck. For instance:
- Exercises that strengthen and loosen your neck muscles can help to ease the stresses that set off your headaches.
- These adjustments can also help to reduce cluster headache attacks.
- Corrective exercises and postural/ergonomic changes can help you steer clear of “text neck” and other occupational headache triggers.
- If your migraines are the result of a recent concussion, a carefully-administered course of physical therapy can actually help you recuperate from that concussion more quickly.
- Our physical therapist can help you identify other migraine triggers and suggest strategies for avoiding them in your everyday life.