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Helping Headaches – Physiotherapy’s Role in Headache Treatment

You know the feeling; you can feel it coming on like a slow vice wrapping its claws around the forehead – the discomfort that warns a headache is coming. It happens to millions across the globe with 80-90% having experienced a headache at one point in their lives. There are many causes from imbalances in body chemicals to alterations in blood supply. However, one of the most prevalent types of headaches are those related to stress.

What Are Stress-Related Headaches?

A stress-related headache is also known as a tension headache. They are typically defined as “a band of pressure” that can be felt around the head and are usually accompanied by tenderness at the back of the head. The pain sometimes starts in the neck or shoulders and progresses through various areas in the head.

What Causes Stress-Related Headaches?

There is no single cause of a stress-related headache. Some triggers include inadequate rest, anxiety, fatigue, repetitive physical strain, and general stress. All can lead to an increase in muscle tension in the head, neck, and shoulders.

Why Should You Visit a Physiotherapist?

Physiotherapy might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering treatment options for headaches. However, it may be the ideal treatment when experiencing stress headaches. Generally, a physiotherapist will conduct a full review of medical history and a thorough evaluation of current physical abilities and limitations. Through this assessment, a physiotherapist can then determine if the type of headache is one that may be alleviated through physiotherapy.

There are several specific ways that a physiotherapist can help reduce stress-related headaches through an individualized treatment plan.

Hands-on techniques!

Soft tissue massage, trigger point release, joint mobilizations (a gentle form of manipulation) and other types of manual therapy can be utilized by physiotherapists. These techniques assist in the reduction of muscle tension and improvement of joint motion providing relief from symptoms associated with stress headaches.

Stretch It Out!

Generally, the more movement that is gained through the neck and shoulders, the less strain that is placed on the surrounding muscle groups and joints. That is why a common integration in a physiotherapy intervention for stress headaches is stretching.

Get Stronger!

The shoulders, back and neck do a lot of “heavy lifting” throughout the day. Believe it or not, the average human head alone weighs over 10 pounds! We all lift every day! So, if the muscles in those areas are weak, they can easily get overworked. A physiotherapist can review and prescribe exercises to target muscle groups. For many people, stronger upper body muscles equate to fewer – and less intense – stress-related headaches.

Addressing posture!

It is no secret that how we sit, stand, or perform different tasks influences how much pressure is put on our muscles. This often leads to compression and overworked muscles in the shoulder, chest, and neck areas that can lead to a stress headache. Physiotherapy can assist with modifications to a physical environment, such as work space, and help highlight the importance of frequent position changes. Both are ways to reduce the severity and frequency of the headaches.

Just relax!

Time and time again, we get told to relax but how is this done? A physiotherapist can introduce different physical and psychological relaxation therapies that can help lessen stress and the triggers associated with headaches. These therapies can include yoga, breathing strategies, or the application of heat, cold, or compression.

And in the end…

If stress-related headaches are clamping down, an individualized physiotherapy plan may be able to reduce, or even eliminate symptoms. Contact a local physiotherapist who can help!


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