Six Ways a Patient Can Help Relieve Painful Headaches


The truth is that each one of us has had a headache at some point in our lives. The pain from a headache can range from minor, all the way to severe. They can affect our moods, and the way we deal with other people. They can make us cranky, and hard to live with. Imagine how your spouse or partner would feel if you’re being very cranky. The pain from a headache can make us want to withdraw from everything. When that happens, we just want to hide away in a darkened room. Headaches are the most common type of pain reported. The WHO (World Health Organization) has found that about half of the world’s adult population suffers from some type of headache disorder.

What are the 10 common types of headaches?

  • Cluster (these happen in clusters or patterns)
  • Hormonal (these usually happen during the menstrual cycle)
  • Caffeine (these happen when heavy caffeine consumption stops)
  • Migraine or sinus (third most common type of headache)
  • Stress or tension (these are the most common type of headache)
  • Post-traumatic (arising after an injury)
  • Exertion (arising after physical activity)
  • Rebound (these happen when someone uses too many headache relief medications)
  • Hypertension (caused by high blood pressure)

What Can You do to Help Relieve Painful Headaches?

It may surprise you that consulting with a licensed physical therapist can lead to relief from tension headache pain. Most people aren’t even aware that a physical therapist can help with headache pain.

A physical therapist will work to identify what is triggering the headache pain. This part is very challenging for the therapist. Once they identify the trigger, they must get at the root cause of the trigger. The next step usually involves forming a treatment plan that is tailored to the patient. After that plan is implemented, the therapist will teach the patient how they can manage their pain on their own at home.

Here are some things that you can expect during your first visit with a physical therapist:

  • Manual therapy that will allow the therapist to determine the mobility of the joints and muscles in your neck.
  • An examination of your posture while you are doing different activities.
  • Testing your muscle strength
  • Questions about any previous injuries to your back, jaw, and head.
  • Questions about the type(s) of pain you are experiencing.
  • Measurements that show the range of motion you have in your shoulders. These measurements will include your neck. And any other parts of your body the therapist believes is relevant.

Once the physical therapist confirms that your headaches are stress-related, they can begin to form a plan that will meet your needs. If they find that your headaches are not stress-related, they will refer you to a different type of healthcare professional to be treated.

How Posture Affects Headaches

One of the things a physical therapist can do to reduce your headache pain is known as posture improvement. You’ve probably been told since you were a child how important good posture really is. The therapist can teach you ways to improve your posture. Improving your posture can less the number and frequency of stress-related headaches.

The physical therapist can work to adjust the way your neck moves. They will use manual therapy to stretch your neck muscles. This can help reduce the pain you feel. It can also increase the range of motion (how much you can move) of your neck. Increasing range of motion allows you to turn your head in different directions without pain. Think of ways you couldn’t move your neck before, but now you can.

The physical therapist can help you improve the strength and ability of the muscles in your neck and upper back. They will teach you some exercises you can do to strengthen these muscles. Once that happens, your posture will improve. And even better, you’ll be able to sit or stand for extended periods of time without feeling pain.

Soft tissue mobilization is a technique that the physical therapist can use. Soft tissue mobilization is simply a hands-on technique that allows the therapist to work or your muscles, ligaments, and fascia (connective tissue). The therapist will do this to break what are known as adhesions. Adhesions are bands of scar-like tissue. And they cause tissues to stick together. Adhesions are not a normal part of the body. They can limit the way you move your body.  Breaking them will allow you to have a greater range of motion.

Bypassing Facial Pain to Avoid Headaches

Myofascial pain can sometimes lead to headaches. Myofascial pain is a fancy name for muscle pain. Myofascial pain happens when there are sensitive spots on your muscles. Spots that may seem to be unrelated to headaches. These sensitive spots are also known as “trigger points”. Your therapist can work on these trigger points in various ways. They can spray the muscle with a coolant, and then slowly stretch it.

There is another technique that a physical therapist can use. It’s called “The McKenzie Method”. You’ve probably heard the term algorithm thrown around quite a bit. An algorithm is a set mathematical way of solving a problem.

The McKenzie Method is an algorithm. It allows the therapist to identify any problems that may exist in your spine that can cause headaches. Once those problems are identified, they can be addressed by the therapist.

Exercise Can Rid You of Headaches As Well

Regular exercise is an important way to reduce headache pain. Exercising releases chemicals in your brain called endorphins. Endorphins work to not only reduce pain, but to elevate your mood as well. Exercise can also help with inflammation and increase your endurance. These things will help to promote your overall healing.

We take headache pain seriously. If any of the techniques we have discussed simply don’t work, we will refer you to another type of healthcare provider. Some types of headaches can be indicators of serious health conditions. And we do not take that lightly. Your overall health is most important to us. Above all, we want you to keep hope alive.