How Manual Therapy Can Help Improve Headaches - Newsletter

How Manual Therapy Can Help Improve Headaches

Our team of physical therapists specialize in manual therapy, or a hands-on method of manipulation and mobilization that yields many positive results in recovery and mobility in our patients.

Manual therapy gives us the opportunity to work directly with our clients and patients to help them restore function and alleviate the pain that they're experiencing.

Nearly 47 percent of the whole worlds’ population has suffered from headaches whether they are described as: tension, cervicogenic, migraine, unspecified, or secondary headaches due to a separate cause.

No matter what the cause, headaches can negatively affect how we live our daily lives and have unfortunately impacted many people across the globe. It's important to understand ways in which headaches can affect your daily life, the different types of headaches you could be experiencing, and ways in which manual therapy can help you alleviate and reduce future headaches.

Headaches can have a debilitating effect on your day without you even realizing it. Ask yourself a few questions like how often do you have to delay doing something you love because you have a splitting headache that just won't go away? Or how many times have you tried to look up different headache relieving techniques to find that none of them are working for you?

Chronic head pain in the form of routine headaches can sap your energy to perform certain tasks and may put you in a terrible mood while you experience them. Some of the most common symptoms of headaches may include chronic fatigue, enhanced sensitivity to noise and lights, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and muscle aches.

If you've noticed that you experience many of the headache symptoms we've outlined above, then chances are you can benefit from manual therapy and other treatment options we offer at each one of our clinics!

What are the Most Common Types of Headaches?

Cervicogenic Headache —

Our Chief Clinical Officer, Craig O’Neil explains these headaches as: “Cervicogenic headaches are caused by some sort of disorder in the neck," explains O'Neil. "A cervicogenic headache is usually located on one side of the head, like a migraine, and it is usually triggered by certain neck movements."

Evidence suggests that spinal manipulation and joint mobilization as well as soft tissue mobilization can be effective in improving symptoms of cervicogenic headaches. Cervicogenic headaches are created in the cervical spine, or neck, and can extend into other areas of the head. These types of headaches are a result of a stiff joint, nerve irritation, soft tissue tension, or trigger points.

The pain can increase with neck and head movement. Manual therapy is a great step in reducing cervicogenic headaches because a physical therapist has the ability to examine the head and neck with hands-on pressure, find the stiff joint or cramped muscle, and mobilize the area to relieve pressure and increase mobility.

Our licensed physical therapists are experts at finding and helping patients with structural issues that could impact function and may cause you to experience pain. Withmanual therapy techniques, our physical therapists can find the problem with the hands-on techniques and work to alleviate the pain you're experiencing.

Posture-Related Headaches —

Headaches are often caused by a tight or stiff muscle or a pinched nerve due to the overuse or misuse of the muscles. This overuse or misuse then sends messages of pain to the brain, which can then create a headache referred from another area of the body. Most headaches, that are not defined as migraines or cervicogenic, fall into this category of "posture-related".

It's important to remember that when you're experiencing pain on any level, it's often a way for your body to send a message to your brain to alert it that something is awry and you need to take action to correct the issue. These types of posture-related headaches are just that and can be caused by a variety of activities in your daily life.

Posture-related headaches occur when the body is contorted for an extended period of time. This puts too much pressure on other muscles and joints in the body which can then result in overuse. Over time pain signals will be sent to the brain, which can then be interpreted as a headache. Chances are, you're contributing to these types of headaches without even realizing it because of some of the mundane activities you do throughout the day.

For example, sitting at your desk all day and looking down at your laptop screen can be a recipe for a posture-related headache. In this situation, the neck muscles are overextended and forced to uphold the weight of your head at an unnatural angle for a long period of time. As a result, you might feel referred pain in your head due to the cramping of muscles or the pinching of a nerve in the neck or shoulders.

There are dozens of scenarios where you're putting your body in awkward positions which could then cause you to get other posture-related headaches. These types of headaches can be corrected with time, but you need to first identify the root causes and postures that put you in uncomfortable positions, and then actively take steps to correct them over time. Correcting these types of headaches can be tricky as sitting at your desk one way for years and then being told you need to correct your posture could take some time to change a habit you've held for years.

By working with a licensed physical therapist at a physical therapy clinic near you, you can have an outside perspective on things that could be contributing to your posture-related headaches and work together to alleviate the pain you're experiencing.

Migraine —

Unfortunately, those who suffer from migraines are not rare and odds are that you know a bunch of other people who suffer from migraines regularly as well. Migraines rank number seven for the specific cause of disability in the United States as well as the sixteenth most commonly diagnosed condition. With so many individuals experiencing migraines far too often, it's understandable that so many people are looking for a healthy method of alleviating their migraines and the pain associated with them.

True migraines are a chemical imbalance in the brain, so a neurologist will be the best specialist to speak with to get to the bottom of the imbalance and find a solution. Hands-on manual therapy is used to pinpoint tight or stiff muscles and trigger points and create a release, so for those struggling with migraine pain, which resides in the brain, manual therapy won’t be able to release that pain with hands-on joint movement. There is also good evidence to show that physical therapy can help with migraines that can stem from associated stiff muscles and joints. Physical therapists can assist with the management of migraines in regards to compensatory measures. While fixing the chemical imbalance is needed for the primary source of a migraine, manual therapy can relieve these secondary adaptations.

However, individuals suffering from what they think are migraines, when they are actually cervicogenic or posture-related headaches, are often misdiagnosed with migraines and miss the opportunity to experience pain relief with manual therapy.

By working with a licensed physical therapist, your physical therapist will be able to determine whether or not you're suffering from cervicogenic or posture-related headaches. In doing so, you might be able to seek relief faster than the time it would take to be referred to a neurologist who would have to run expensive tests and make you wait for the results before any meaningful steps can be taken.

Different Forms of Manual Therapy That We Use

We use a variety of manual therapy methods to treat our patients based on each patients’ needs and their unique goals. By utilizing physical therapy services when experiencing persistent headaches instead of grabbing over-the-counter or prescribed medication, you can save time and money by addressing the root of the issue. A physical therapist can help diagnose the underlying issue causing your headaches and treat your condition with a hands-on approach.

  • Myofascial trigger point therapy
  • Soft tissue mobilization/manipulation
  • Joint mobilization/manipulation
  • Muscle energy techniques
  • Proprioceptive therapy
  • Strain-counterstrain techniques

Myofascial trigger point therapy, as well as soft tissue mobilization and manipulation, are the most common manual therapy methods we use for individuals experiencing headaches and we have found great success treating patients who experience different types of headaches as we've outlined above.

Headaches and Manual Therapy

A lot of times, the symptoms for cervicogenic, migraine, and posture-related headaches look similar and therefore are hard to diagnose and prescribe a proper treatment moving forward. Doctors will often prescribe medication to subside symptoms, however, this does not help you get to the underlying root of a cervicogenic headache.

With a licensed physical therapist, you can work to identify whether or not there is a musculoskeletal issue that could be causing your chronic headaches.

You will receive a full-body assessment to understand the catalyst for your headaches and to better understand which form of headache you are experiencing. Your physical therapist might ask you questions to understand your habits, educate you on how your specific headaches occur, and recommend future injury prevention techniques.

Lastly, one of our friendly physical therapists will construct a personalized treatment plan that when combined with manual therapy and education, can improve your recovery trajectory tremendously. We care about you and helping you achieve the best results for your body, faster.

If you experience headaches on a regular basis and want to take steps to reduce the pain you experience and prevent future headaches from occurring, then schedule an appointment today with one of our licensed physical therapists in a clinic near you!

Each one of our licensed physical therapists is passionate about helping you get better, faster, and you shouldn't feel like you need to just live with the pain you're experiencing from chronic headaches. Our licensed physical therapists can help you address the underlying issues that are causing your headaches and get you back to feeling better without all those constant life disruptions that headaches can all too frequently cause.

Schedule an appointment today to work with a licensed physical therapist to address your headaches!


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