Pain of any type that occurs in any part of the head is called a headache. There are many different types of headaches, with just as many causes. The International Headache Society describes several different categories of headache:
Migraine and cluster
Secondary headaches from an underlying condition, such as fever, infectious disease, sinus disorder, or in rare cases, a tumor or more serious illness
Cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches
Most headaches are harmless and resolve on their own, although severe headaches that recur frequently can affect your ability to do your daily activities and can reduce your quality of life.
There is effective treatment for almost every type of headache. The challenge lies in determining the type of headache, its cause, and in developing an appropriate treatment plan that will reduce both its frequency and intensity. Physical therapists can help determine the type of headache you have and are experts in managing pain from tension-type headaches.
What are Headaches?
Headaches, like back pain, are one of the most common of all physical complaints and can be one of the most frustrating to manage. Pain of any type that occurs in any part of the head is called a headache.
Tension-type headaches (also called muscle-spasm headaches) are the most common types of headaches in adults. They may be the result of a neck or jaw problem, poor posture, fatigue, or stress.
A problem in the neck, head, or jaw--such as an injury or arthritis--can lead to tension in the muscles at the back of the head and to increased pressure on the nerves to the face and head. Poor posture can cause these muscles to become overworked, which can trigger a headache.
A tension-type headache typically begins at the back of the head and spreads to the top of the head and the eyes. You might feel an increase in facial pain along the cheeks near the jaw bone (temporomandibular joint dysfunction). People often describe a tightness, a sensation of someone tugging on their hair, or a feeling of wearing a tight cap. These headaches can worsen with specific positions--such as sitting at a desk--and may ease with rest.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough examination that includes a review of your health history. Your therapist will ask you questions and will perform tests to determine the most likely cause of your headaches. For example, your therapist might:
If it appears that you do have tension-type headaches, your physical therapist will work with you to design a plan of care to meet your goals. If the evaluation indicates that you may have a different type of headache--such as sinus, migraine, or cluster headache--your physical therapist likely will refer you to another health care professional for additional diagnostic tests and treatment.
Your physical therapist will work with you to correct the problems that are causing your pain and will help you learn to prevent headaches through simple changes in your posture and lifestyle:
Modify your workstation or home office. Tips may include:
Do you suffer from tension headaches?
Dry needling has been proven to be very effective at releasing muscle knots, improving mobility, and relieving tension and pain. Because of this it has become a favorite choice for headache relief.
Many people don’t realize that their headaches are being caused by a neuromuscular issue. Usually, the temporary relief offered by Tylenol or ibuprofen is enough to get their minds off the pain, but symptoms will eventually come back. In these cases, a doctor offering a prescription could be counterproductive to getting better. Using medication to treat a neuromuscular problem serves to mask the pain but doesn’t treat the issue at its core.
If you experience chronic headaches or you simply avoid certain tasks and limit certain movements because it could trigger a headache, you are likely a good candidate for dry needling. Dry needling targets trigger points in the muscles and tissue to help alleviate tension, preventing headaches and helping relieve tension caused by headaches. Tension headaches are the most responsive to dry needling because the root cause is muscle tension.