There are three common types of headaches each with very different symptoms.  And each type requires different headache treatments.  The information provided below provides a basic explanation of the different headaches.

Tension Headaches
These are the most common type of headache affecting both males and females.  They are usually moderate to severe in nature and the pain is usually on both sides of the head.  Many describe tension headaches as a tightness or pressure around the head.  They can last from several hours to several days.                                                      
Migraine Headaches
These are more common in women and usually involve more pain on one side of the head.  They can last up to 72 hours and usually stop people from performing normal activities.  Migraines are often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light or sound.    
Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are thought to be genetic in nature and occur more often in men.  A cluster headache is usually described as a sharp pain behind the eye that lasts up to 3 hours.  Many people get a “cluster” or several of these headaches in a day.  Other symptoms include tearing in the eye, a runny nose, or congestion.  Other signs include restlessness during the headache.


arrow  How can Physical Therapy help Headaches?


Physical therapy is a very successful headache treatment option for tension-type headaches.  In many cases tension type headaches are accompanied by neck pain, poor posture, jaw pain, or jaw clicking.  Tight muscles or “trigger points” within muscles may also be present.  Your physical therapist will perform a full evaluation to determine any underlying causes of your headaches.  The following physical therapy treatment techniques are available for patients with tension-type headaches:


  • Posture exercises and education
  • Ergonomic assessment and education (how you sit, stand, work, drive, etc)
  • Muscle strengthening for the shoulder blade and neck muscles
  • Muscle stretching exercises
  • Trigger Point release techniques
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Joint mobilizations
  • Cervical distraction – a gentle traction on the neck combined with light pressure at the base of the skull.  this is a very effective technique in releasing muscle tension and can often give significant relief.
  • Modalities – including electrical stimulation, ultrasound, ice or heat to specific muscle groups.
  • Taping


Your physical therapist may also educate you on the use of certain products including cervical rolls to sleep on, back supports for chairs, and postural supports.


arrow  Common Questions about Headaches and Physical Therapy


If I have a bad headache should I reschedule my appointment so I can do more during my visit? 

Actually, the opposite is true.  By seeing you while you are experiencing a headache, your therapist will be able to better assess the effectiveness of certain headache treatments.  The focus of your session may be different if you are experiencing a headache, but this can be a valuable visit.  The only exception would be if you were not safe to drive because of medication or the severity of the headache.


Can my pillow effect my headache?

Yes,  many people sleep on a pillow that is either two high or low.  You can easily have someone take a picture of you lying on your pillow.  Your head should be in line with your spine.  If it is higher or lower than your spine, you may be experiencing muscle tension or postural headaches.  In some cases a neck roll can offer relief while sleeping.


How can tape help my headache? 

Tape can be used to help support the muscles in the neck or it can inhibit tight muscles.  It can also serve as a reminder about maintaining good posture throughout the day.  Tape can be applied in specific patterns across the back of the neck, the side of the neck, or the upper back area to offer significant relief.  Taping is a valuable headache treatment option used by physical therapists.


How many visits will I be seen for my headaches?

This varies depending on the type of headache you are experiencing and the severity.  During your initial physical therapy evaluation, your therapist should outline the number of visits indicated based on your specific condition.  As a general rule, most headache patients are seen 2x/week for 4-6 weeks.


Landmark Physical Therapy offers free 15 minute screening sessions to determine if physical therapy treatment is a good option for your headache pain.  Call our Physical Therapy office in Scottsdale at (480) 661-1124 to schedule.  Or email us at pt@landmarkptclinics.com if you have specific questions for our staff.