Can Physical Therapy Treat Headaches?

YES! Headaches are one of my favorite things to treat in fact. There are many types of headaches and many can benefit from PT intervention.

The first type of headache that benefits from PT is called a cervicogenic headache. “Cervico” means neck and “genic” means stemming from. In this form of headache the joints in the first three segments of the neck (C1-3) are dysfunctional, but instead of neck pain, our brain represents the pain as head or facial pain. Often the pain is one sided and felt in the temple, eye, or scalp. Fun fact, this is due to the nerves in the neck and the nerves in the face converging into one place in the brain.

To treat this type of headache your therapist will treat these joints in the neck as well as addressing the movements or postures that lead to them being irritated in the first place.

The second common type of headache is a tension headache. This type of headache is related to tightness, spasm, or pain in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Many of the neck and shoulder muscles refer pain into the head. This type of headache can be strongly related to posture or poor movement patterns of the shoulder blades. We will work to improve these movements and postures to reduce the root causes of the headaches.

Finally, there is preliminary evidence to suggest PT may be able to help with Migraine headaches. There are a few theories at play here. In one theory we are treating another type of headache (cervicogenic or tension) that leads to the migraine. In some cases it could also be that a cervicogenic or tension headache was misdiagnosed. Either way PT may be able to help!

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