Physical Therapy for Headaches

How Can Physical Therapy Give You Relief From Headaches?

Farryl Roth, Physiotherapist, Johannesburg

October 1 2020

All of us experience headaches at some point in our lives, regardless of our age. But when they occur on a regular basis and interfere with your daily life, it could signal the need for a more intensive approach. Physiotherapy can provide relief and a long term solution for chronic headache or migraine sufferers.

When we think of a physiotherapist or physical therapy, we usually think of treatment for injuries or muscle pain, while this is certainly the case, physios also help manage and treat headaches and migraines. Integral Physiotherapy uses a natural and holistic treatment approach, opting to avoid strong drugs for your headache. A pain reliever may help to relieve pain in the short-term, but if you are looking for something more concrete to help you manage your regular symptoms and stop suffering from regular pain, physiotherapy is the recommended route.

What Type of Headache Could You Be Experiencing?

Many people may not know this, but there are actually different types of headaches that develop from different causes. The three most popular types of headaches include:

Tension headaches

The most common form of headaches experienced by teens and adults is known as tension headaches, which is sometimes also referred to as stress headaches. Tension headaches can occur due to repetitive motions or poor posture and support in the neck/head. With tension headaches, the pain starts at the back of the neck before it travels up to the top of the head and after some time, causes pain and discomfort behind the eyes. Many people also experience tension headache pain in the cheeks and jaw area.

Migraine headaches

Migraine headaches are the second most common types of headaches, and often involve strong, throbbing pain which is usually one-sided, that may be coupled by nausea or vomiting, sensitivity towards light, and loss of appetite. Women are around 3 times more likely to experience migraines than men. People who are diagnosed with or who suffer from PTSD also have an increased risk of migraines. Pain can last from a few hours to a few days, and can run in families, indicating a possible genetic cause.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches can be characterized by experiencing a sudden, strong burning and piercing pain which can last from 15 minutes to three hours. After one headache resolves, another will soon follow which can occur daily for months at a time. Cluster headaches are six times more likely to develop in men than women. They usually always occur behind one eye or on one part of the face. When a strong cluster headache forms, swelling, redness, flushing, and sweating usually occur with it, along with watery eyes and/or nasal congestion.

What Causes Headaches?

Some common causes of headaches include:

  • Stress
  • Muscle tension and tightness
  • Decreased neck range of motion
  • Tightness between the shoulder blades
  • Episodes of dizziness or vertigo
  • Family history
  • Caffeine
  • Dehydration
  • Certain foods
  • Environmental factors
  • Radiation
  • Teeth grinding or bruxing
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Poor posture
  • Arthritis

Diagnosing Your Headaches with a Physical Therapist

Before any physical therapy treatments start, Farryl Roth will work with you to diagnose your headaches or source/s of pain. It helps to be open and upfront in the first session, as you’ll need to discuss your full medical history with him. For example, If you suffered an injury to your neck, head, or back three years ago, it could still be a contributing factor today.

After discussing your medical history, Farryl will likely run you through some tests as part of the diagnosis phase. For example, your posture and spinal alignment will be monitored. The strength of your muscles and the range of motion in your neck and shoulders will be tested. Farryl will also look at contributing factors that may be the underlying cause of your problem. Once the cause of your stress-related headaches has been identified, a custom made plan of physical therapy can be prescribed to manage and treat it.

What Can I Expect From My Physical Therapy Treatments?

  • Questions about previous injuries
  • Questions about the location of the pain, in addition to any other symptoms you are experiencing.
  • Tests of your muscle strength and sensation
  • Measurements regarding the range of motion of your shoulders, neck, and other relevant parts of the body
  • Manual therapy to ascertain the mobility of joints and muscles in your neck
  • Examination of your posture.
  • Stress level assessment
  • Exercises to strengthen your neck muscles, allowing them to hold the weight of your head more evenly and with less strain
  • Postural and ergonomic advice to help you get rid of any bad habits that might cause future neck problems
  • Stretching exercises, manual therapy, heat therapy, and/or ice therapy
  • Stress reduction measures such as lifestyle changes, and advice on how to reduce common stress triggers in your life

Is it Time for Physical Therapy?

An experienced physical therapist may well be the solution to helping you manage and overcome your painful headaches. Integral Physiotherapy uses a variety of physical therapy methods performed in our clinic, as well as teaching you home techniques, which will help to reduce the frequency and severity of your stress-related headaches.

If you suffer from muscular aches and pains, you know how frustrating it can be when this stops you from going about your everyday business and doing all the things you enjoy.

Our approach to headaches and pain is to accurately diagnose where the problem is originating from and to deal with the causes as well as the symptoms of the problem.

We use tried and tested physiotherapy techniques in combination with highly specialised techniques that Farryl Roth, a registered Physiotherapist, has developed in his clinical experience.

The results are geared toward a long-term solution and we have seen amazing results in very severe pain conditions, chronic headaches, migraines, and stress-related syndromes.