Headaches affect about 2/3 of the population. There are various causes of headache, such as depression, fatigue, dehydration, and vascular issues, but many are due to issues at the craniovertebral region (where the head and neck meet). For a person suffering from recurrent or chronic headaches, a medical doctor, often a primary care physician or neurologist, should be consulted to properly diagnose what may be the reason for the headaches. Some headaches, such as migraines, may have multiple causes which need to be addressed. If a musculoskeletal or neuromuscular cause is a contributing factor to any type of headache, physical therapy can help in the treatment.
Physical therapists are licensed health care professionals who specialize in the examination and treatment of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders. During the examination of a patient referred for physical therapy, the therapist will take a thorough headache history and perform an examination. Some of the things that the therapist will assess will include: range of motion, strength, posture, and examination of the muscles’ tone and tightness.
With significant changes in posture, such as a forward head and rounded shoulder position, the mechanics of how the spine functions will change. The length and tension of muscles will also be affected. Some muscles will be overly shortened and others will be overly lengthened. This leads to strain and abnormal muscle contraction. The muscles often form trigger points, which are taut bands in the muscles that can be tender to touch, limit range of motion, cause weakness, and refer pain to other areas, such as the head. Nerves in the craniovertebral area are impacted and create headache pain.
There are a variety of treatments in physical therapy that can be utilized to address headaches. Typically treatments will include: postural exercises and education, body mechanics training, and manual treatments, such as trigger point release, soft tissue mobilization, and joint mobilization. Home exercises and self-pain management techniques are taught to help the person suffering from headaches know how to avoid, decrease, and manage the headache pain.
Maureen E. Gordon, PT, MSPT, CEAS is a physical therapist at Aquacare Physical Therapy, located at 598 Cynwood Drive in Easton, MD. Maureen received her Master of Science in Physical Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. She has concentrated the past 10 years of her career on specializing in the evaluation and treatment of headaches, concussions, and vestibular disorders. She has taught continuing education seminars to health care providers and guest lectured to college students. If you suffer from chronic headaches and are interested in scheduling an appointment or free consultation with Maureen Gordon, please contact the Easton office at 410-770-9720.