A headache is defined as pain in the head, face or neck. It is one of the most common locations of pain in the body. Headache symptoms are associated with many different illnesses and pathologies, accounting for 8 million doctors visits each year, of these, only about 1% having a serious underlying condition. According to the National Headache Foundation, over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches defined as experiencing two or more headaches per week.
What are the Causes of Headaches?
Most causes of headaches are benign and can be managed with conservative treatment. The most common causes of headaches can be related to:
- Muscular Tension
- Poor Posture
- Vascular Issues
- Abnormal Spine Mechanics
Common Types of Chronic Headaches Include:
- Migraines: severe recurring headaches, characterized by sharp pain and often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and visual disturbances.
- Tension Headaches: headaches related to muscle tension and/or stress that can come and go and may be chronic in nature.
- Cluster Headaches: headaches with intense pain that occur in clusters, usually followed by periods of remission.
- Cervicogenic or Craniovertebral Headaches: headaches which are felt in the front or back of the head, occasionally around the eye, as a result of abnormal mechanics of the upper cervical spine. Often times nerves located in the upper cervical spine may be irritated reproducing head or face pain, without neck pain.
What is the Treatment for Headaches?
The proper treatment depends on several factors including the type and frequency of the headache and its cause. Not all headaches require medical attention. Management of migraines, tension, cluster or cervicogenic headaches may include education, diet management, counseling, stress management, biofeedback, medication and/or physical therapy.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Physical therapy will address posture, range of motion and joint mobility and strength. If, after a thorough evaluation of the patient by a physician, it is determined that physical therapy is a viable conservative treatment option, the patient can expect his or her treatment to include:
- Skilled mobilization of the cervical spine
- Education about job or lifestyle modifications
- Postural correction exercises
- Soft tissue manual therapy
- Co-management with other health care providers