We don’t think there’s ever an individual who hasn’t experienced having a really bad headache at least once in their lifetime. It is so common that we often shrug it as part of daily life. However, there are certain types of headaches that warrant our attention as these can significantly impact our quality of life, our work productivity, and our social relationships. It is very important for us not to become slaves to chronic headaches because there are a lot of things that we can do to manage this health problem. While most of us will think that physical therapy is only effective for musculoskeletal problems, it is actually one of the best therapeutic regimens for headaches. You can actually regain control of your life using physiotherapy for headache.
What’s Causing Your Headache?
There are a lot of reasons why we experience headache from time to time. With increasing knowledge and understanding of the pathophysiology of headaches, we now know that all of the more than 300 causes of headaches most will typically fall under three general categories. This makes management a lot easier.
- Migraine – This category of headaches is often described as throbbing and is thought to involve the blood vessels within our head. Of course, there are many different types in this category. Migraines are perhaps the type of headache that we are mostly familiar with.
- Tension headache – If the headache was described to be painful but not throbbing, it was often labelled as a tension headache. Unfortunately, studies have failed to provide proof that it has something to do with tension which may occur in the muscles of the head and scalp.
- Cervicogenic headache – This classification of headaches is best known as neck pain. We should remember that the neck is what actually attaches the head to the rest of the body. Pain in the neck as well as the base of the skull can actually radiate to the rest of the head. This can result from abnormal movements or poor posturing of the neck.
Certainly, there are other types of headaches. But that is why you will need the expertise of healthcare professionals like physiotherapists to help determine the specific type of headache that you have.
How Can Physiotherapy Help?
Regaining control of your life from headaches starts with a very comprehensive assessment of your health problem. While diagnostic procedures can be performed to identify possible structural issues that may be producing the pain or perhaps even aggravating the painful condition, these are often not helpful in certain types of headaches. A physiotherapist can help us identify the actual cause of our headaches so that he or she will be able to devise a plan of care that is highly specific to our needs.
In most cases, physiotherapists can help by performing a variety of techniques that aim to relieve the muscle tension that occurs in the various structures of the neck. It should be remembered that sore or tense muscles can irritate, compress, or even distort the different joints found in the neck. When this happens, the pain can travel all the way to the other parts of the head.
Physical therapists can loosen the joints in our necks through joint mobilisation using gentle gliding techniques. In some cases, they can also perform localised manipulation of the joints in an effort to re-establish normal anatomical alignment and thus, relieve pressure off of these structures. In other cases, physiotherapists can also apply traction on joints to increase the space in between joints and help in the realignment process. However it is done, physiotherapy can help improve joint mobility so we will feel less pain.
Additionally, in situations where our neck joints are considered to be hypermobile, physiotherapists can help devise of program of exercises designed specifically for strengthening the neck muscles. Hypermobile joints or dynamically unstable articular surfaces can produce pain because of the amount of movement that they produce, leading to further irritation of any existing tissue injury. Muscle strengthening exercises can help to limit, stabilise, or even control these unnecessary joint movements to help us find pain relief.
In cases where the problem is an overactive group of muscles resulting in excessive tightening that they don’t loosen up, physiotherapists can provide a variety of techniques that can help us relax these muscles. For instance, they can help us perform specific stretching exercises, massage the affected part, conduct dry needling or acupuncture, and other types of relaxation techniques.
If the issue is a weak muscle, then muscle strengthening exercises may be devised by the physiotherapist to help provide the necessary strength in these structures. We can also be provided with postural correction as well as supportive care for nerve dysfunctions that can aggravate our headaches.
There are many ways in which a physiotherapist can help us manage our headaches. Physiotherapy can help us regain control of our lives from the clutches of severe, chronic headache.