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How to Make Your Tension Headaches Disappear

Did you know that headaches are the third most common pain complaint throughout the world? They can impact your quality of life and make it difficult to function normally. Luckily, headache relief can be found through physical therapy. Your trained physical therapist at Silver Creek Physical Therapy will work with you to provide pain relief from headaches, in addition to any other aches and pains you may be suffering from. In this guide, we’ll outline the different types of headaches and the causes for them, in addition to explaining how physical therapy can help.

The Relationship Between Stress and Headaches

Emotional stress and physical stress are closely linked, either capable of causing or aggravating the other. Perceived crises can cause muscles to tighten up as the body goes into “fight or flight” mode. When that tightness affects small muscles at the base of the skull, such as the RCPM muscle in the neck, those muscles may pull on a pain-sensitive membrane in the head called the dura mater. The dura mater responds by sending out waves of pain, giving you a classic tension headache.

Cervicogenic headaches also originate in the neck. These headaches are often caused by alignment problems or imbalances in the cervical spine. These imbalances place the neck muscles under physical stress, producing both headaches and neck pain. Emotional stress can also play a role in cervicogenic headaches since the muscle tightness they create can help to pull the neck out of alignment.

Last but certainly not least, migraines are the most dreaded of headaches. In fact, a migraine attack may go far beyond the crushing headache it is notorious for producing, causing symptoms such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Faintness
  • Sound and/or light sensitivity
  • Visual distortions are known as “auras”

While it’s hard to pin down the underlying causes behind migraines, many of the triggers are well known — and they include stress. In addition to various foods, bright lights, loud sounds, weather changes, and hormonal swings, migraines can be set off by physical overexertion or emotional strain.

Different types of headaches:

Any type of pain that occurs within the head can be referred to as a “headache.” Most headaches will resolve on their own without medical intervention; however, severe or recurrent headaches that interfere with one’s quality of life should most certainly be evaluated further. The challenge lies in identifying which type of headache you’re experiencing and then devising a treatment plan accordingly. Physical therapists are adept at diagnosing different types of headaches and can develop pain relief strategies for stress-related headaches.

There are 10 common types of headaches:

  • Stress (tension)
  • Post-traumatic
  • Migraine or sinus
  • Caffeine
  • Hormone
  • Exertion
  • Cluster
  • Rebound
  • Hypertension

What are stress-related/tension headaches?

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache in adults and older teens. They occur when the neck and scalp muscles contract or become tense, and they can happen at any age. Stress-related headaches generally start at the back of the head and progress to the top of the head and eyes, sometimes accompanied by facial pain along the jaw and cheeks. This type of discomfort has been compared to having hair pulled or wearing a very tight hat. These types of headaches can occur as a result of:

  • Increased stress.
  • Poor posture.
  • Neck or jaw problems.
  • Fatigue.
  • Arthritis.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.

How physical therapy helps:

At your initial visit, your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your physical abilities, in addition to reviewing your health history. He or she will ask you a series of questions to determine the type of headache you’re experiencing. After your physical therapist determines what type of headache you’re dealing with you’ll work together to develop a treatment plan for meeting your physical health goals.

During your first visit, you can expect to undergo some of the following:

  • Inquiries about the location of the pain, in addition to any other symptoms you are experiencing.
  • Questions regarding previous injuries to your neck, head, jaw and/or back.
  • Measurements regarding the range of motion of your shoulders, neck, and other relevant parts of the body.
  • Examination of your posture while engaged in different activities.
  • Tests of your muscle strength and sensation.
  • Manual therapy to ascertain the mobility of joints and muscles in your neck.

A physical therapist’s mission:

While the end goal of physical therapy is pain relief, there are some important steps along the way that your physical therapist will help you with, in order to decrease pain and improve function. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Posture improvement. Your posture throughout the day greatly impacts your likelihood for pain and stress-related headaches. Your physical therapist will teach you methods of improving your posture in order to function more comfortably in your daily life.
  • Strength improvement. You’ll learn exercises to help strengthen the muscles that control your neck and upper back, in order to improve posture and increase your ability to stand or sit comfortably for longer periods of time.
  • Neck improvement. Using manual therapy, your physical therapist will stretch the muscles in the back of your neck to relieve pain and increase movement.
  • Reducing jaw tension. This is another common area to hold tension, except that this isn’t something that can be stretched out at home. Your physical therapist can use targeted massage and other physical therapy techniques to reduce tension in the jaw, which can help to reduce headaches.
  • Reducing neck and back tension. Many physical therapists will start with a targeted stretching routine that will alleviate some of the tension that is most frequently held in the back, neck and even the shoulders. These stretches are often simply to repeat at home, and once a physical therapist has guided you through the best form of stretches you can be sure that the stretching you do on your own will be safe and effective.
  • Relaxing the muscles. Working with your physical therapist can provide you with the opportunity to understand muscle relaxation techniques, which can be helpful in the midst of a stressful situation. Learning how to relax muscles when your inclination is to constrict them means promoting airflow through the body and thereby promoting your ability to stay calm in the face of stress. This can further help support the reduction of tension headaches.

Different types of physical therapy treatments

Your physical therapist may suggest any combination of specialized treatment services, including but not limited to:

  • Heat or ice compressions.
  • Soft tissue mobilization.
  • Muscular releases.
  • Muscle energy techniques.
  • Body mobilization.
  • Cervical traction.
  • McKenzie-based therapies.
  • Stretching.
  • Strengthening.

With all treatment plans, you can expect to receive an education that will supplement your in-office experience.

Persistent and life-altering headaches may not go away without physical therapy. To experience long-lasting pain relief and improve your quality of life, contact our office today. Our staff would be happy to talk with you and discuss how we can help you achieve a pain-free life.

Visit us at one of our conveniently located physical therapy clinics in San Jose CA – Evergreen & Blossom locations, Newark CAGilroy CASunnyvale CA, and Los Gatos CA.

Sources:

https://headaches.org/2016/10/11/physical-therapy-headache/

https://www.moveforwardpt.com/SymptomsConditionsDetail.aspx?cid=fd8a18c8-1893-4dd3-9f00-b6e49cad5005

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