When you see someone clutching his head at work or in a stressful circumstance, you could believe he's either stressed out or has a headache.
Indeed, you could be correct on both counts. Tension headaches can be caused by both physical and emotional stress; they can also be caused by cervicogenic and migraine headaches, all of which can render you effectively handicapped.
You may suffer from chronic or recurring headache discomfort, and you're probably tired of taking pain killers all of the time. Perhaps it's time to visit our physical therapist for a better solution.
Physical therapy can help you control your headache symptoms by treating the underlying reasons, resulting in a safer and more long-term solution.
How does stress contribute to headaches?
Physical and emotional stress are linked, with one capable of causing or intensifying the other. Muscles tighten as the body swings into "fight or flight" mode in response to perceived crises.
When small muscles at the base of the skull, such as the RCPM muscle in the neck, become tense, they may strain on the dura mater, a pain-sensitive membrane in the head. The dura mater responds by emitting pain waves, resulting in a characteristic tension headache.
Cervicogenic headaches also originate in the neck. These headaches are often caused by alignment problems or imbalances in the cervical spine. These imbalances place the neck muscles under physical stress, producing both headaches and neck pain. Emotional stress can also play a role in cervicogenic headaches, since the muscle tightness they create can help to pull the neck out of alignment.
Last but certainly not least, migraines are the most dreaded of headaches. In fact, a migraine attack may go far beyond the crushing headache it is notorious for producing, causing symptoms such as:
- Visual distortions known as "auras"
- Sound and/or light sensitivity
- Nausea and vomiting
While it's hard to pin down the underlying causes behind migraines, many of triggers are well known - and they include stress. In addition to various foods, bright lights, loud sounds, weather changes and hormonal swings, migraines can be set off by physical overexertion or emotional strain.
How does a PT relieve headache pain?
Pain relieving drugs such as NSAIDs can relieve the occasional headache, but they can't address the stresses that lead to chronic headache problems. For that level of relief, turn to physical therapy.
Our physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes an examination of your neck and cervical spine, discussion of your symptoms, and analysis of lifestyle factors that may be sources of stress. This background allows us to create a headache management program largely rooted in the management of stress and its effects.
This program may include:
- Ergonomic adjustments such as changing your computer monitor height (to prevent constant neck droop)
- Dry needling to ease stress-induced tension and pain
- Massage therapy to relax a chronically tight neck
- Exercises to limber up your neck or strengthen your neck muscles
- Mindfulness exercises such as yoga to help you add more serenity to your daily life
- Suggestions for changing or sleep position or trying a different kind of pillow
- Chiropractic adjustments to correct cervical spinal alignment
Common reasons for stress-related headaches
One of the main causes of stress-related headaches is right there in the name: stress. The headache generally happens when the muscles in the neck or scalp become tense and contract.
Depression and anxiety are similar emotions to stress that can also lead to headaches. In addition, there may be a physical cause behind your stress-related headaches. An accident or injury to the neck or back can contribute to headaches. Poor posture and arthritis are two other potential causes.
The diagnosis will play a role in the management of your stress-related headaches. If your headaches are the consequence of a previous injury, for example, one course of treatment that would work for correcting your posture and strengthening your neck muscles might not be appropriate.
Stretching and strength training are likely to be part of your therapy plan. Your physical therapist may also use the following options:
- McKenzie therapies
- Cervical traction
- Body mobilization
- Hot and cold compressions
- Soft tissue mobilization
Aside from your physical therapy sessions at the clinic, your therapist will also recommend exercises, stretches and lifestyle changes that you can make at home, which will all contribute to eliminating your headaches.
Schedule a consultation with a physical therapist today
Conquer your stress, and you may just conquer your chronic headaches as well. Get in touch with our physical therapist to learn more about this drug-free approach to headache relief!