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Physical Therapy (PT) for Migraines and Headaches

A migraine headache is a common condition that can be incredibly draining. Conventional treatments, including medications, are often ineffective in alleviating headache pain.

Physical therapy can be vital to migraine headache management, depending on the cause and physical symptoms of the condition in migraine patients.

If you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, physical therapists can provide you with long-term pain relief. Learn below about physical therapy as a migraine treatment. 

How Does Physical Therapy for Migraines Work?

Migraine headaches are primary headaches and neurological symptoms resulting from a disorder in your central nervous system (CNS), which includes the spinal cord and brain. 

Medication as a migraine treatment attempts to alleviate the condition by affecting the central nervous system. On the other hand, physical therapy treatment involves working on the joints and muscles within the peripheral system (PNS), which includes the nerves in the rest of the body (outside the brain and spinal cord).

Physical therapy techniques to relieve headaches resulting from a migraine might include: 

  • Hands on treatment and massage to decrease joint and muscle tightness
  • Exercises to decrease pain and reduce inflammation
  • Teaching you to prevent headaches from coming on in the first place

The early headache symptoms of a migraine often include muscle tension in the neck. During your physical therapy sessions, you will learn stretching exercises to reduce neck pain and consequent migraine headaches. 

See a Physical Therapist for These Types of Headaches

Physical therapists regularly treat patients with migraine symptoms that originate from a range of different causes. Two of the most common are the referred headache and the cervicogenic headache.

Referred Headache

In some cases, headaches are due to muscle and joint problems in the jaw or neck. Joint and muscle issues in these locations can cause headaches in the form of referred pain. In other words, sometimes you have a tight muscle in one area of your body and it can cause pain in another part of your body.

In the same way that left shoulder pain can indicate an issue with the heart, tension-type headaches can signal a problem with the neck muscles or joints. 

For example, headache patients often have problems with the upper trapezius muscle at the top of the shoulder. Routine activities, such as computer work, can overuse this muscle and develop trigger points. Trigger points are also known as muscle knots and they can shoot pain up your neck to your head. 

Cervicogenic Headache

Structural issues or injuries in the joints and muscles in the upper (cervical) spine can trigger migraine headaches. Usually, patients with headaches of cervical origin also have issues with neck movement. Other symptoms of a cervical-origin headache include:

  • Dull pain on one side of the head, face, or neck
  • Neck stiffness or pain
  • Pain in one shoulder or arm
  • Headache resulting from certain neck positions
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to loud noises or bright light

In most cases, people develop this type of headache because they spend long periods in positions that strain their necks. Hairstylists and factory workers often experience cervicogenic headaches. Medical conditions, such as arthritis of the upper spine, infections, or fractures can also cause this type of headache. 

Physical Therapy Treatment for Migraines and Headaches

PT is among the most effective long-term solutions for headaches. Patients who undergo PT can expect the following:

  • A significant decrease in the frequency, duration, and intensity of headaches
  • Improvements in back and neck mobility and function
  • Improvements in quality of life

PT will also reduce your dependence on medication. Taking pain medication over the long term can result in various adverse effects, including ulcers, stomach pain, and nausea. PT has no lasting side effects and is a safe alternative to medication. 

When starting therapy, your physical therapist will create an appropriate treatment plan to provide relief from headaches and migraines. This step involves a consultation to determine your medical history and a thorough physical examination to determine the cause of your headaches. 

Your physical therapist aims to treat the muscles and joints and correct muscle imbalances, reducing tension on your joints and soft tissues. 

For example, suppose your physical therapist finds that trigger points in the upper trapezius muscle cause your headaches. In that case, they will give you exercises to stretch the muscle fibers. You will also need to do muscle-strengthening exercises to prevent the development of these trigger points. 

If the root cause of a muscle or joint issue is an improper posture, your physical therapist will help you maintain the correct position when working or doing everyday tasks. This step in the PT process will prevent future issues causing your headaches to return. 

When treating cervical spine joint injuries, your physical therapist will restore joint mobility while reducing muscle stiffness that can cause headaches. 

Seek Early Treatment for Headaches

Migraines and headaches can affect all aspects of your life, including your relationships, career, and general wellbeing. Our team of physical therapists has extensive experience in providing headache treatments using safe and effective physical therapeutic methods. To find long-term relief from migraines and headaches, contact us today. 

AUTHOR

Allison Feldt

Body Motion Physical Therapy

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