Headaches can vary in intensity and duration but many headaches, particularly migraine headaches can be quite disabling. Many people rely on over the counter medications initially and likely followed by prescription strength headache medications if symptoms do not improve. What many do not realize is Physical Therapy can effectively help alleviate headache symptoms.
Physical therapy primarily involves work on the muscles and joints in the Peripheral Nervous System while medications affect the central nervous system (involves the brain and spinal cord) to attempt to reduce symptoms. What this means is that how much a migraine sufferer responds to physical therapy depends on the degree that muscles and joints are involved in their headache.
There are a few ways that the muscles and joints in the neck region can produce pain in the head. It is referred to as referred pain. The upper trapezius muscle located on top of the shoulder is usually a trouble spot in people with headaches. This muscle is commonly overused during activities such as computer work, as well as people tend to hunch their shoulders and tense in this area when stressed leading to the focal areas of muscle fiber contracture known as trigger points. These trigger points can refer pain up the neck and into the temple.
Another way that structures in the neck can produce headache is by inciting a migraine event. In some people, cervical muscle tightness and dysfunction can occur, creating pain and discomfort which in turn ignites a migraine headache. This is similar to how certain foods or scents can trigger a migraine. In these patients, by treating the problems in the neck or jaw, one trigger for the individual's migraine problem can be significantly reduced if not eliminated.
Many Physical Therapy techniques can be utilized in the initial periods of a headache and can help decrease the pain and duration of the attack. Patients can be educated on proper use of modalities, relaxation techniques, proper stretching exercises and family members can be instructed in massage and traction techniques to help alleviate symptoms. A skilled Physical Therapist can physically examine a patients cervical spine, assess posture, and treat a patients current ailment through manual therapy, correcting muscle imbalances, strengthening and stretching exercises and pain relieving modalities tailored to the individual.