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Tension Headaches and Physical Therapy

Everyone has experienced a headache at some point but for some headaches are not the result of only stress or eating ice cream too fast. For some headaches come frequently, last a few days or seem to almost never go away. Headaches may seem like something simple but to those that experience them they would hardly classify them as simple. There are multiple types of headaches all which can occur for a wide variety of reasons. Headaches can be a stand-alone illness or the symptom of another condition. If the headache is a stand-alone condition it is often referred to as a primary headache. Primary headaches include cluster-type, tension-type and migraines. These types of headaches deal directly with muscles of the head and neck, chemical activity of the brain, or damage to the nerves and blood vessels of the head and neck often because of lifestyle, diet, stress, and sleep.

Headaches can also be a symptom of another condition that stimulates specific pain pathways in the head and neck region. Conditions that can stimulate these pathways range in severity from alcohol and stress to a brain tumor or stroke. A headache CAN be a symptom of a serious condition. It is important to seek medical advice if the headaches come regularly and increase in severity or duration. Most people self-treat their headaches rather than see a health care provider even as headaches worsen. It is important to be fully screened to rule out some of the very serious conditions that can cause headaches. Especially if a headache is ever associated with confusion, fever, sensory changes, or weakness a health care provider should be contacted, as these can be signs of very serious conditions.

A physical therapist is one type of health care provider that can perform an initial screening to determine if you are appropriate for physical therapy or if you should seek additional advice or guidance from a physician. Physical therapists specialize in treating tension type headaches as those are most associated with muscle and joint dysfunction. With the amount of time we sit in front of computers, we are changing the stress and pressures places on our neck and shoulders. People report looking down at a laptop for multiple hours of the day. Our bodies were not designed for this. Poor prolonged positions combined with stress is recipe for headaches. The muscles commonly related to headaches include sternocleidomastoid, upper traps, suboccipital group and even muscles of your scalp and jaw.

Physical therapists will perform specific manual techniques to decrease your headache intensity, incidence and duration to allow you get back to your daily life. There is a large connection between your headaches and the muscles of your neck and head so the hands-on techniques the therapist uses will be focused in this area. These techniques will likely be a combination of joint mobilizations, soft tissue mobilizations, stretching and muscle recruitment. For some patients, it will also be beneficial to assess the mechanics of your jaw and possible treat the muscles and joints in this area.

As I already alluded to, your work set up is a key area to address as this is likely where you spend most of your day. There are many ergonomic resources online regarding monitor height and distance and how to adjust your seat, among many other helpful tips. Many companies also offer assistance in this area so be sure to check with your HR department to see what services are offered to you.

Once you are sitting in a better position, it is essential to also learn how to move in a more effective way. Physical therapists are movement experts and work with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. With all your repetitive motions throughout the day certain muscles are on overload (often ones related to headaches) while others are lying dormant. To address your headaches and prevent further injuries of neck and shoulder, you want to make sure you have your whole team playing. The more your body works together, the more your body can do!

Come in to In Motion OC to determine what is going on in your head! Headaches are debilitating. We can help get you on the right track.

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