According to the World Health Organization, 47% of the world population deals with headaches at least once per year. Did you know that headaches can be treated by physical therapists? Move Forward Radio produced a podcast interviewing Denise Schneider, a Doctor of Physical Therapy who specializes in this area. Below is a summary of the interview; click the link below if you’d like to hear the full podcast.
Dr. Schneider describes that many headaches are minor and can resolve without intervention. However, others can be more severe, affecting a person’s daily activities and quality of life. Several of the major types of headaches are treated by physical therapists, including tension headaches, migraines, and cervicogenic headaches.
Tension headaches are most common and can be related to muscle tightness. Similarly, Cervicogenic headaches can be caused by stiffness in the joints and tension in the muscles of the neck. Both often begin as pain in the neck and radiate forward into the head. Migraine headaches are a bit different and are caused by a neurovascular issue, often beginning as pain in the front of the head that radiates back. The different types of headaches can require different types of treatment.
Certain symptoms can be very important for you to discuss with your doctor or physical therapist. We often refer to these as “red flags” and include items such as blurred vision, numbness, weakness, falling, slurred speech, trauma, or if you had an existing headache that has recently changed.
What can PT do for headaches? You may be surprised to discover that physical therapists play a major role in treating certain types of headaches. Depending on the type of headache, physical therapy can be considered the “gold standard” type of treatment. PTs treat the muscles and joints that are contributing to headaches. For example, trigger points (specific areas of tightness in a muscle) can cause pain and may respond well to various types of physical therapy treatments including massage, stretching, and even specific exercises. Physical therapists also help correct postures that may be contributing to headaches, as well as educate patients on various topics including stress and home management strategies.
Dr. Schneider goes on to describe that the different causes to headaches can play into how long a patient may need to have treatment. For example, she suggests that with a cervicogenic headache, many people may find resolution in as little as 4-6 visits, and with tension headaches, many people may find resolution in 8-12 visits; both can fully resolve. True migraine headaches are often more complex and can take 12-18 visits, as the progress is expected to be slower; full resolution of symptoms may not be reached.
Dr. Schneider is trained in manual therapy and has treated many patients with neck pain and headaches. She finds that many of these patients “fall through the cracks,” often seeing multiple different healthcare providers without results. This may be due to some healthcare professionals not knowing that physical therapy is an option for treatment.
Most importantly, if you develop any new symptoms or a change in your previous symptoms, check in with your doctor or physical therapist for an evaluation. The physical therapists at HOPE Physical Therapy & Wellness are all trained in manual therapy, and several specialize in the treatment of neck and headache symptoms. Still unsure if this may be an appropriate fit for you? Give us a call and schedule a free consultation to discuss your specific situation.