Pain of any type that occurs in the head is called a headache but there are many different types and causes. The International Headache Society provides these categories:

  • Tension – type
  • Migraine and cluster
  • Secondary – caused by fever, infection, sinus disorder, or (rarely) a tumor
  • Cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches

Most headaches are harmless and resolve on their own but when they are frequent and severe they can affect your ability to function. There are effective treatments for almost every type once you find out what type of headache or the cause.

Tension type headaches are the most common type. A tension-type headache typically begins at the back of the head and spreads to the top of the head and the eyes. People often describe a tightness, a sensation of someone tugging on their hair, or a feeling of wearing a tight cap. These headaches can worsen with specific positions–such as sitting at a desk–and may ease with rest. Our PT’s can help you figure out what kind of headache you are experiencing and are experts in managing pain from the tension-type headache.

Another common tension type of headache is caused by jaw pain or dysfunction. (temporomandibular Joint Disorder). You might feel an increase in facial pain along the cheeks near the jaw bone or TMD. Your jaw may click or lock. To address this tension type headache, we have a TMD specialist (expert in jaw pain).


How can PT help?

Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough examination that includes a review of your health history. Your therapist will ask you questions and will perform tests to determine the most likely cause of your headaches. For example, your therapist might:

  • Ask you:
    • to recall any previous injuries to your neck, head, or jaw
    • the location, nature, and behavior of your pain and other symptoms
    • to draw your areas of pain on a body diagram
    • Perform tests of muscle strength and sensation
    • Examine your posture when sitting, standing, and performing various activities
    • Measure the range of motion of your neck, shoulders, and other relevant parts of your body
    • Use manual therapy to evaluate the mobility of the joints and muscles in your neck

If it appears that you do have tension-type headaches, your physical therapist will work with you to design a plan of care to meet your goals. If the evaluation indicates that you may have a different type of headache–such as sinus, migraine, or cluster headache–your physical therapist likely will refer you to another health care professional for additional diagnostic tests and treatment.

Your physical therapist will work with you to correct the problems that are causing your pain and will help you learn to prevent headaches through simple changes in your posture and lifestyle:

Improve neck mobility. Physical therapists use a specialized technique called manual therapy to increase movement and relieve pain and to stretch the muscles of the back of the neck. Dry needling is also very effective.

Improve your strength. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to increase the strength of the muscles that help stabilize your upper back and neck to improve your posture and endurance and make it easier for you to sit or stand for longer periods of time without discomfort.

Modify your workstation or home office. Tips may include:

  • using a headset instead of a regular phone
  • adjusting your computer screen so that it is no lower than the level of your eyes
  • finding an appropriate desk chair
  • adjusting the position of your computer mouse