How Physical Therapy Relieves Headaches

No one likes having a headache, but most people don’t realize they can be treated with physical therapy. I’m Lauren Masi, Doctor of Physical Therapy and board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. I’m also the owner and Clinical Services Director here at Bay Area Physical Therapy and Lafayette Physical Therapy. Today we’re going to talk about how PT can help relieve headaches.

What Causes Headaches?

I’m sure you’ve had a headache before, probably even within the last month. Headaches are pretty prevalent throughout our society, but oftentimes physical therapy is not the first thing that comes to mind in terms of treating it. 

What we tend to find is there’s two main types of headaches. They can be of musculoskeletal origin, which is where we as physical therapists can come in, and there could be other medical-related issues or health-related issues that are contributing.

Medical or Health Reasons Why You Might Have a Headache

First, let’s touch on the category where we might refer you to your medical doctor. Headaches don’t have to mean something terrible. It doesn’t have to mean you have a brain tumor or other serious condition, but we always want to be safe and make sure that we rule out anything major. 

Headaches can also come from something as simple as being dehydrated or having a mineral deficiency. A lot of people might think that they have great diets, but in today’s society in America, we’re often lacking some of the important minerals that help keep our bodies balanced. I’ll even speak from personal experience on this, because this is something that I’ve noticed for myself where I had to step up my game and take care of my nutrition and diet to make sure I was getting what I needed so I didn’t have headaches.

Another medical reason that you could have headaches can be blood pressure issues, which are also helped by something as easy as drinking water regularly and making sure you’re getting enough. When I say getting enough water, the typical standard we recommend to our patients is drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water. Sometimes that blows people’s mind, but that’s a quick and easy way to help you with overall health, not just headaches, to make sure that all your systems are functioning well.

Musculoskeletal Reasons Why You Might Have a Headache

Now, turning to the musculoskeletal side of headaches. Headaches can be caused by muscle tightness, and how do our muscles get tight? Well, it could be poor posture or poor ergonomics, meaning how you fit into your environment. 

A lot of people will think of their desk setup in terms of ergonomics. That’s the most common. And you might be able to reach out to your employer to have your ergonomics setup looked at by someone that the company might sponsor. Otherwise, a physical therapist certainly can give you pointers on how to improve this to prevent headaches and other musculoskeletal issues.

Other areas that we might want to look at are stress, neck pain, shoulder pain, or other issues that can lead to muscle tightness (and contribute to headaches). Even sitting in an area where there’s a cold draft blowing on you, sometimes you might notice you shrug up and tighten your neck and shoulders to stay warm. That can lead to headaches as well.

Common Treatments for Headaches

When it comes to treatment, what do people look for? Again, physical therapy is not typically what they look at first. Most often, they’re going to turn towards over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, Advil, or Motrin. I am sure you have at some point gone into your medicine cabinet, popped a couple of pills and said, “I’ll be fine later.” And sometimes you are. It doesn’t mean you got to the root cause of what was causing that headache, but it might buy you some time. 

If you start to notice that your headaches are recurring, you definitely need to find out why. If we do find that there are medical issues like blood pressure contributing to your headaches, I would refer you to your physician or cardiologist to investigate that further. 

Otherwise, starting at home with drinking more water and having a healthy diet can help a lot. This means getting those minerals that you might be lacking by eating fruits and vegetables that are pulling those minerals out of the ground, not the quick and easy fast food and prepackaged foods.

How Physical Therapy Treats Headaches

When you come to physical therapy, we’re going to put you through a full assessment to look for those root musculoskeletal causes of headaches. We’re going to look at your posture. We’re even going to look at your neck and shoulder range of motion to find the muscle tightness and/or weaknesses that could be contributing to why you might be having these headaches. Once we figure that out, we’ll help teach you the ways that you can avoid it going forward and to make sure that we get you back on track to being able to get through your day comfortably.

If you need more information on using physical therapy to get to the root cause of pain, please look at one of our prior vlogs on that issue. Otherwise, if you’re ready to get some assistance in making sure that there is no musculoskeletal reason for your headaches, please reach out to our front desk at (925) 284-3840 for a complimentary consultation or evaluation today.

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