December 5, 2022
The fact that the season of giving, joy and celebration can also be our most stressful time of year is one of the worst kept secrets of the holidays. And yet, year after year, we charge forward, often fighting through headaches to complete our shopping, getting our holiday baking done, scheduling gatherings with family and friends, and fulfill all our family obligations.
But why fight through the headaches, asks physical therapist Mary Rose Strickland, PT, DPT, OCS with New Life Physical Therapy, when a physical therapist can often provide relief from cervicogenic and tension-type headaches by correcting the problems that are causing your pain?
“A cervicogenic headache often starts with pain or dysfunction at the back of the head or neck – discomfort that can spread around your head, and even to your eyes,” said Strickland. “What we as physical therapists can do is, through a thorough examination and a series of questions, determine the likely causes of your headache – then treat these causes.”
According to the World Health Organization, a tension-type headache (TTH) is the most common primary headache disorder in the world, typically related to stress or associated with musculoskeletal problems in the neck. One study published in the U.S. Library of Medicine called tension-type headaches the second-most common illness worldwide, affecting 80 to 90 percent of people at least once in their lives.
Tension headaches, as they’re often called, are frequently described as a feeling of pressure or tightness, often like a band around the head that spreads into the neck. These can be caused by non-anatomical influences such as stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, and environmental factors. Things that may further contribute to these and cervicogenic headaches include poor posture, previous injury, or issues with the neck and jaw.
“Once we determine the cause of your tightness and pain, a physical therapist can work with you to correct the underlying problem that’s leading you to experience these headaches, be it fatigued muscles from bad posture, or a lack of strength or mobility in your upper back, neck and shoulders,” said Strickland.
Often, says Strickland, treatments will focus on three areas: improved posture, improved strength in the upper back, neck and shoulders, and improved mobility in the neck and spine through the use of stretching and pain-reducing movements – also known as manual therapy. Dry needling is often found to be quite helpful as an adjunct to treatment, as well.
“We’ll not only provide relief through treatments in the clinic, but physical therapists also work with people to correct the issues which caused the headache in the first place, be it improving posture or simple changes in lifestyle,” said Strickland. “We will give you a program how to better manage these symptoms in the future and eventually decrease your risk of recurrence.”
If the holiday season has already become a headache for you this year, schedule an assessment with the New Life Physical Therapy team to learn more about what’s causing your tension headache and how it can be successfully and affordably treated through physical therapy.