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How physical therapy helps with stress-related headaches

October 1st, 2020
Stress-Related Headaches

Headaches are the third most common pain complaint throughout the world. They are debilitating and can greatly impact a person’s quality of life. An occasional headache is a normal part of life, but when they happen frequently or last for a long time, you may need professional treatment.

By working with a physical therapist, you can experience immediate reduced pain from stress-related headaches and other ailments that may be contributing to your suffering. In this guide, we’ll outline the different types of headaches and the causes for them, and explain how physical therapy can help.

Types of headaches

Pain of any sort that occurs in the head is called a headache. Many headaches resolve on their own and don’t need intervention. However, severe headaches that recur frequently and interfere with quality of life often demand further evaluation. The challenge lies in identifying which type of headache you’re experiencing and then devising a treatment plan accordingly. Physical therapists are adept at diagnosing different types of headaches and can develop treatment strategies for reducing and preventing stress-related headaches.

There are 10 common types of headaches:

  • Stress (tension)
  • Post-traumatic
  • Cluster
  • Hormone
  • Caffeine
  • Migraine 
  • Allergy or sinus
  • Exertion
  • Rebound
  • Hypertension

What are stress-related headaches?

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache in adults and older teens. They often appear as a result of poor posture, neck or jaw problems, fatigue, or arthritis. It’s also possible to experience them when feeling anxious, depressed or stressed, which is why they’re commonly referred to as stress-related headaches. They occur when the neck and scalp muscles contract or become tense, and they can happen at any age.

Stress-related headaches generally start at the back of the head and progress to the top of the head and eyes. Sometimes, facial pain along the jaw and cheeks accompanies the headache. They have been compared to wearing a tight hat, having hair pulled or a squeezing of the head from the ears inward.

How can a physical therapist help?

Your physical therapist can conduct a thorough evaluation of your health history and a careful physical examination. They will ask you a series of questions to determine the type of headache you’re experiencing and determine the best course for treatment.

During your first visit, you can expect to undergo some of the following:

  • Tests of your muscle strength and sensation
  • Questions regarding previous injuries to your neck, head, jaw and back
  • Inquiries about the location and types of pain and other symptoms experienced
  • Measurements regarding the range of motion of your shoulders, neck and other relevant parts of the body
  • Manual therapy to ascertain the mobility of joints and muscles in your neck
  • Examination of your posture while engaged in different activities

If your physical therapist determines you’re dealing with stress-related headaches, you’ll work together to develop a plan for care to meet your physical health goals. If the evaluation determines a different type of headache, your physical therapist will likely refer you to a different type of health care professional.

Goals of physical therapy

The ultimate goal of physical therapy is to help reduce and prevent pain. However, a complete treatment consists of reaching various smaller goals to help you reach your ultimate goal.

Some of these include:

  • Improvement of your posture — Your posture throughout the day greatly impacts your level of pain and likelihood of stress-related headaches. Your physical therapist will teach you methods of improving your posture for a greater quality of life.
  • Improvement of neck movement — Using manual therapy, your physical therapist will stretch the muscles in the back of your neck to relieve pain and increase movement.
  • Improvement of strength — You’ll learn exercises to help strengthen the muscles that control your upper back and neck so that your posture improves, and you’re able to endure standing and sitting for longer periods without discomfort.

Physical therapy treatment methods

While each treatment meets the needs of individuals, most physical therapists use methods that include the following:

  • Soft tissue mobilization
  • Joint mobilization
  • Muscular releases
  • Cervical traction
  • Gentle stretches and exercises
  • Muscle energy techniques
  • McKenzie Method®

Visit Rehab Access for stress-related headache treatment

Are you suffering from long-lasting or intense headaches? Our physical therapists at Rehab Access can examine your headache to determine if it is a tension headache we can help treat, or we can recommend you to another professional who can help. Contact our team today for more information about treating stress-related headaches or to schedule an initial appointment.