Headaches are a very common complaint treated in physical therapy. While not all headaches can be treated with PT, a large majority of them can be. Headaches that start and intensify at your forehead or around your eye sockets are often due to sinus pressure or irritation of the connective tissue in the brain (i.e. dehydration). Other headaches that start at the base of your neck and extend up your head, around your head, or down into your neck are referred to as cervicogenic headaches (CGHs). These make up 15-20% of all headaches among the global population. While normally you might take an aspirin to relieve the symptoms of a headache as it clears up on its own, this solution will not have a lasting effect on a cervicogenic headache as the muscle and joint limitations remain long after the drugs wear off. When a cervicogenic headache is present, it’s important to make a change in the tissues to correct the root of the cause.
What is causing my cervicogenic headache?
Psychological stress, fatigue, poor posture, poor sleeping habits, carrying heavy items such as briefcases, purses, and luggage, sitting/standing at poorly designed workstations, and sitting for long periods of time can all trigger cervicogenic headaches.
The aggravating factors listed above will affect the suboccipitals which attach from the upper cervical spine to the base of the head, the upper trapezius which attaches from the shoulder to the base of the head, and the sternocleidomastoid which attaches from the collarbone to the base of the skull. One of the factors that results in cervicogenic headaches will cause one or more of these muscles to shorten and in turn “pull” at the base of the skull, causing a cervicogenic headache. In addition to muscular restrictions, someone suffering from CGHs can have dysfunctional movement patterns in their upper cervical spine.
When should I seek treatment for my cervicogenic headache?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a lasting headache, it’s a good idea to seek out treatment to pinpoint the source of the problem and ensure that your condition is not a lasting issue. A good portion of those suffering from cervicogenic headaches also have joint issues that contribute to the problem. Working with a physical therapist can help to correct these problems and get you back to a pain-free life.
How can physical therapy help with my cervicogenic headache?
The most significant role physical therapists can play is to address the root cause of your headaches and work with you to improve your overall posture. Restoring joint mechanics of the involved segments and other nearby restricted segments are the goals of the physical therapist in helping to abolish cervicogenic headaches.
• Manual therapy techniques like cervical or thoracic spinal manipulation/mobilization and progressive and gentle relaxation stretches to prevent recurring symptoms of pain. Your physical therapist may also assess the position and mobility of the segments in your upper cervical spine to determine the cause of your headache symptoms.
• Postural education to strengthen weakened muscles in the core that may be contributing to your headaches and to help you maintain proper posture while performing everyday activities.
• Mobility exercises of the shoulder, neck, and pericranial muscles to improve range of motion and relieve stresses on the head and neck area.
Physical therapists can provide the necessary tools to prevent and/or treat cervicogenic headaches, allowing you to return to your favorite activities pain-free and better than ever! To learn more about how to relieve cervicogenic headaches or to eliminate any current discomfort, book a physical therapy assessment today.
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“My physical therapist took my headaches away in only 2 visits. Go check them out! It’s worth it.”