Headaches & Neck Pain

Headaches affect almost 50% of the population and, in many cases, last for a short duration and resolve gradually. However, in more moderate and severe cases, a headache can last for hours or days, reoccur frequently, and can limit work productivity, daily activities, concentration, social lives, and sleep. Often, the headache and associated symptoms can be so severe that a person may seek medical care and treatment, which can include medication, rest, activity avoidance, or physical therapy.

Common Types of Headaches

There are many different types of headaches that can be identified by their frequency, symptom presentation, and severity. Two of the most common headache types include tension-type and cervicogenic headaches and may possibly be a result of poor posture, an injury to or problem in the neck or jaw, fatigue, and even stress. These headaches can occur with or without neck pain, stiffness or tenderness, sensitivity to light or sound, and worsen with movement of the head and neck. Because of the contribution of the neck in provoking headache symptoms, it is important to closely investigate and identify which impairments are specific to your headache presentation.

How Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Headaches?

Your physical therapist can help to identify the type of headache you are experiencing based on the patterns and symptoms of your headache. Through a physical exam, your physical therapist will evaluate your range of motion, muscle tightness or tension, mobility of the joints in the neck and upper back, strength, posture, and other possible impairments that may be contributing to your symptoms and causing your headaches and associated neck pain.

By identifying your individual impairments and contributing factors that may be triggering your headaches, your physical therapist will provide hands-on manual therapy to improve soft tissue mobility, joint mobility, range of motion, flexibility, and provide pain relief. Your physical therapist will also guide you through an exercise program focused on addressing the impairments identified in your exam.

In addition to hands-on manual therapy and specific and individualized exercises based on your impairments, pain levels, and goals, your physical therapist will work to identify triggering factors and provide solutions including ergonomic and work or desk set up, activity modification, home exercise programs, and resources for stress relief and sleep hygiene to reduce return and provocation of headache and neck pain symptoms.

Seek Physical Therapy for Your Headaches

Through a combination of manual therapy, guided exercises, and education focused on improving posture, desk and work ergonomics, activity modifications, and a home exercise program, you and your physical therapist will work together to reduce the frequency and severity of your headache symptoms and associated neck pain. In doing so, your physical therapist will be with you every step of the way, from your first visit to your last, to help you achieve all of your goals and return to a more active and functional lifestyle.

To learn more about the benefits of physical therapy for headaches, call a location near you to speak with a licensed physical therapist. We also encourage you to visit our team pages and request an appointment online.

by Molly Fenimore, PT, DPT, Assistant Clinic Director, Excel Physical Therapy – Passyunk

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