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  • Writer's pictureSam Kelokates

How Physical Therapy Can Help with Headache and Migraine

Headaches and migraine are more than just occasional nuisances. They are very common conditions that significantly impact the lives of millions worldwide.

These disorders can transform from infrequent to daily attacks, affecting an individual's ability to perform daily activities, work, and enjoy time with family and friends.

The World Health Organization has recognized migraine alone as one of the top disabling conditions, underscoring the urgent need for effective management strategies.

Physical therapist assessing patients head and jaw while laying on treatment table

But the question remains, "Will physical therapy help my headache or migraine?"

This blog post will go into the indicators that suggest physical therapy could be your pathway to managing and potentially reducing the frequency and severity of your headaches.

Through expert evaluation and tailored interventions, physical therapy has the potential to unlock a new level of pain relief and quality of life for those battling these challenging conditions.


Key Indicators Physical Therapy Will Help Treat Headaches

Physical therapy can provide critical interventions for those with debilitating headaches and migraine attacks. Targeted treatments can help to address some of the musculoskeletal and neurological aspects that trigger attacks.

Here are some of the many triggers that physical therapy can help address:

Neck Pain and Headaches

Neck pain is a frequent companion of headache disorders, yet its presence alone doesn't reveal the full story behind the discomfort.

In cervicogenic headaches, the pain originates in the neck and is referred to the head, whereas in tension-type headaches and migraine, the headache itself may refer pain to the neck.

Migraine complicates the picture further, as neck pain and dysfunction can also act as a trigger for migraine attacks. This dual role of neck pain, as both a potential source of headaches and a symptom, requires a thorough assessment.

By identifying and addressing any impairments, physical therapy can play a critical role in reducing headache frequency and intensity, offering a clearer path to relief.

Neck Instability and Difficulty Controlling Head Movements

Craniocervical instability is notably prevalent among individuals suffering from headaches, particularly those with cervicogenic headaches and migraines.

Symptoms of this instability often include frequent neck cracking, the need to support the head with hands or a pillow, and a sensation of heaviness in the head towards the day's end.

These indicators reflect underlying issues such as muscular weakness and poor cervical motor control, which can exacerbate headache disorders.

Physical therapy aims to restore craniocervical stability, thereby mitigating potential headache triggers and contributing to a more stable and pain-free existence.

Dizziness Associated with Headaches and Migraine

The relationship between vestibular dysfunction and headaches can significantly impair one's daily functioning, with dizziness sometimes overshadowing the headache pain itself.

Physical therapy, through targeted exercises, has been shown to alleviate symptoms associated with vestibular migraines and other vestibular disorders.

By addressing the vestibular system's role in maintaining balance and spatial orientation, physical therapy can help manage dizziness effectively, offering a much-needed reprieve from this challenging symptom.

Exercise-Induced Headaches

The fear of exercise as potential to trigger headaches can severely limit one's lifestyle, from playing with children to engaging in physical work or leisure activities.

However, with the expert guidance of a physical therapist, it's possible to find a starting point for exercise that doesn't exacerbate headache symptoms.

By carefully crafting a tailored exercise program, physical therapy can help individuals build resilience and capacity for activity, ultimately reducing the occurrence of exercise-induced headaches and broadening the scope of enjoyable and beneficial physical activities.

What Is Involved in a Physical Therapy Evaluation for Headache and Migraine?

Physical therapy for headache and migraine management begins with a comprehensive evaluation. This initial assessment is crucial for developing a personalized treatment plan that addresses the unique needs of each individual.

Comprehensive Assessment

The first step of the physical therapy evaluation process involves a thorough review of the patient's headache history. This history is an invaluable tool, providing insights into the frequency, duration, intensity, and triggers of headaches.

It helps the therapist understand the patterns and potential lifestyle or environmental factors contributing to the condition.

A physical examination of the neck follows, focusing on identifying any musculoskeletal abnormalities that could be contributing to headache symptoms. The therapist will assess neck mobility, muscle tenderness, strength, and the presence of any trigger points that could refer pain to the head.

Movement patterns are also evaluated to identify any dysfunctions or imbalances. This includes observing posture, head and neck alignment, and the coordination of movements that could influence headache occurrence.

Such a holistic view ensures that the treatment plan addresses all potential physical contributors to headaches and migraines.

Identifying Triggers and Patterns

Understanding when and how headaches occur in relation to neck pain and activity levels is a critical aspect of the evaluation.

By correlating specific activities, postures, or movements with the onset of headaches, the physical therapist can identify patterns that may be contributing to the problem.

This insight allows for the development of targeted interventions aimed at modifying or eliminating these triggers from the patient's daily life, thus reducing the frequency and severity of headaches.

Vestibular Evaluation

For patients experiencing dizziness alongside their headaches, a vestibular evaluation is an integral part of the diagnostic process. This assessment examines the inner ear and brain areas responsible for maintaining balance, identifying any dysfunction that may be contributing to dizziness or balance issues.

Through specialized tests and observations, the physical therapist can determine if vestibular dysfunction is present and how it relates to the individual's headache disorder.

By thoroughly assessing each patient's condition through a comprehensive evaluation, including a review of their headache diary, physical examination, and vestibular evaluation, physical therapists can craft personalized treatment plans.

These plans aim not just to address symptoms but to address the underlying causes of headaches and migraine, paving the way for long-term relief and improved quality of life.

How Will Physical Therapy Help My Headaches?

Once the comprehensive evaluation is complete, your physical therapist will design a personalized treatment plan to address the specific causes and symptoms of your headaches.

Improving Neck Function

Headaches often stem from issues related to neck function, such as poor mobility, lack of strength, or instability.

Physical therapy interventions focus on enhancing neck movement through mobility exercises that target stiff muscles and joints, as well as manual therapy.

Strengthening exercises are also prescribed to build the support needed around the neck and shoulders, ensuring proper function and reducing strain.

Furthermore, stability exercises are tailored to improve the control of neck movements, which helps in preventing feelings of instability that could trigger headaches.

Managing Dizziness

For those whose headaches are accompanied by dizziness, vestibular rehabilitation plays a crucial role in treatment.

This specialized form of therapy is designed to address balance and dizziness issues resulting from vestibular disorders.

Techniques may include gaze stabilization exercises, which help in reducing vertigo by training the eyes and brain to compensate for inner ear issues.

By directly addressing the vestibular system's dysfunction, physical therapy can decrease both the dizziness and the associated headaches due to vestibular migraine

Exercise and Physical Capacity

A common barrier for individuals with headache disorders is the fear of exercise, due to concerns that physical activity may trigger an attack.

However, physical therapy offers a safe and structured approach to gradually increase exercise tolerance. Starting with low-impact activities and progressively increasing intensity, physical therapists help patients build endurance and physical capacity.

This not only reduces the overall frequency of exercise-induced headaches but also improves general health and well-being.

Over time, patients learn to manage their symptoms better and can engage in more activities without fear of triggering a headache.

Lifestyle and Stress Management

Physical therapy takes a holistic approach to headache management, recognizing that lifestyle factors play significant roles in the frequency and severity of headaches.

Interventions may include teaching relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, to help manage stress levels.

Ergonomic assessments and adjustments are also crucial, ensuring that a patient’s daily environment does not contribute to their headache symptoms.

Additionally, sleep hygiene practices may be recommended to improve sleep quality, as poor sleep can exacerbate headaches.

By incorporating these lifestyle and stress management strategies, physical therapy helps patients develop a comprehensive approach to reducing headache triggers and enhancing overall quality of life.

Do I need Physical Therapy for my Headache?

If these struggles resonate with you (neck pain, dizziness, exercise-induced headaches, or the impact of stress on your life) it may be time to consider how physical therapy can transform your approach to managing headaches and migraine.

Remember, you don't have to navigate this headaches alone. A tailored, comprehensive physical therapy program could be the key to unlocking a life with fewer headaches and more freedom.

To explore the possibilities of physical therapy for your headache or migraine management, please reach out to us. You can contact our clinic at 267-459-3191 or schedule a free consultation.

By addressing the root causes of your symptoms through a holistic and hands-on approach, we can work together to reduce your pain, enhance your physical function, and improve your quality of life.

Don't let headaches control your life any longer. Reach out today, and take the first step towards a brighter, pain-free future.

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