Tension Headaches Relief with Physical Therapy & Chiropractic

Sep 27, 2013

What's the first thing you do when you feel a headache coming on? I'm guessing reach in the medicine cabinet for a bottle of pills. Truth is, you can keep pumping your body full of medications to mask the symptoms, or you can take action and see a physical therapist or chiropractor to cut off the problem at the source.

Now, of course, there are many different kinds of headaches: Migraines, headaches from a cold or flu, sinus headaches, and tension headaches. Most headaches are harmless and resolve on their own, but consistent tension headaches build upon one another getting worse and worse. Medications won't touch these headaches because the root of the problem is deep within the muscles and tissues in the head, neck, shoulders or jaw. These are the type of headaches I'm going to discuss and what physical therapy and chiropractic can offer to help.

Headaches are not only one of the most common complaints we hear on a daily basis, but are one of the absolute most frustrating issues for patients to deal with. Tension headaches, also referred to as muscle spasm headaches, may be the result of a TMJ disorder, high levels of stress, fatigue or poor posture. Any musculoskeletal problem involving these other areas of the body can result in added stress and strain the muscles that attach to the neck and back of the head. Pain travels via nerves into the face and head, causing a headache. Poor posture is the leading culprit contributing to tension headaches.

The typical pattern of a tension headache is what is referred to as a "ram's horn" (see image above). The pain will start at the back of the head, and work its way up to the top of the head and sometimes behind the eyes. Long hours sitting at a computer can reinforce this position and increase the intensity of a tension headache.

Goals of physical therapy and/or chiropractic treatment will be to first improve mobility in the neck itself. This involves gentle manual therapy techniques to put more motion into any specifically restricted joints or vertebrae in the spine. Along with increasing joint mobility, specific stretches will be performed to help relieve tension in muscles that attach at or around your head and neck. In addition to increasing mobility, we also want to increase strength. Important postural muscles in the upper back and shoulder blades are generally weak in the majority of people, especially in those who sit for long hours at work. Strengthening the upper back will help stabilize your body in a better posture, keeping you sitting nice and tall, and encouraging your head to move in better alignment over your shoulders, not in front of them. By improving your posture and the endurance of these key muscles, you'll be able to sit and stand more comfortably, and stop the true root of these headaches before they even occur.

If the symptoms described in this post sound all too familiar and you feel you may be suffering from tension headaches, make an appointment to come see us today. Our physical therapist and chiropractor can perform a full postural evaluation and assessment to determine if physical therapy or chiropractic treatment is right for you. After all, what do you have to lose...besides those pesky headaches?