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3 Ways Physical Therapy Can Help Manage Headaches

Everyone has had a headache before - but did you know there are over 150 different types of headaches? This can make it difficult to describe a headache or pinpoint causes.


A headache is defined as a pain in the head or face, and is often describe as a pressure that's throbbing, dull, constant, or sharp. The length of time a headache lasts and frequency of headaches can vary greatly between people.

Headache types tend to fall into two categories, primary and secondary. Primary headaches are defined by the Cleveland Clinic as caused by dysfunction or over-activity of the pain-sensitive features in the head. They aren't caused by an underlying medical condition. These are headaches like tension headaches (the most common type of headache), migraines, and cluster headaches. These headaches can be triggered by alcohol, nitrate-rich foods (like processed meats), nicotine consumption, lack of sleep, skipped meals, physical activities, and poor posture.


Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition - but this doesn't have to be serious. Common secondary headaches are caused by dehydration, medication overuse, or sinus-related headaches. However, if you recently had a spinal injury or spinal tap, or if your headache is extremely painful and comes on suddenly, you should consult a doctor immediately.


Pharmaceuticals are common headache treatments, but if you get recurring headaches, it's a good idea to look towards managing headaches proactively. A physical therapist will perform a full examination to diagnose the type of headache. Based on the findings, they will develop the most effective treatment plan. A physical therapist's treatment plan will often include:


  1. Manual Therapy

Many people think of manual therapy as massage, but in reality, it's so much more than that. Manual therapy reduces tension, increases blood flow, and increases tissue extensibility (relaxing the muscles to lengthen the fibers). These all reduce pain, improve range of motion, and decrease the likelihood of tension and postural-related headaches.


2. Exercises


Exercising can reduce pain, improve endurance, decrease inflammation, and promote overall healing. A physical therapist is an expert on the human body and the exercises that can help with addressing the root cause.


3. Education


Patient education is an important part of reducing headaches. A physical therapist can help you identify specific triggers that cause or worsen headaches, and teach you how to alleviate symptoms with a wide variety of techniques. A physical therapist has the expertise to work with the patient on sleep habits, postural corrections, diet, stress relaxation techniques, and more.


For many people, the best thing they can do to reduce headaches is focus on their posture. Think not only about your time on the computer during work hours but how you watch TV, read, or look at your phone. Text neck (the name for the pain cause by looking down at your phone) strains the muscles and is a frequent cause of headaches.


A vestibular-certified therapist can also test the vestibular system for Vestibular Migraines and Migraine Associated Vertigo.


If you or a loved one suffer from headaches, call FlexPlus Physical Therapy at 508-650-0060. A physical therapist can assess your specific needs and come up with the appropriate treatment plan to reduce or eliminate your headaches!

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