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

Headaches are extremely common. Most are harmless and resolve on their own. But when they are frequent and severe they can affect your daily function and quality of life. There are effective treatments for almost every type once you find out what their type or underlying cause.

Tension type headaches are the most common. A tension 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 PTs are fully equipped to deal with this type of headache and the pain management necessary.

Tension headaches can also be caused by jaw pain or dysfunction (temporomandibular Joint Disorder). You might feel an increase in facial pain along the cheeks near the jaw bone. Your jaw may click or lock. To address this specific cause, we have a TMD specialist who is an 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 perform tests to determine the most likely cause of your headaches. Your therapist may:

  • Ask you to recall any previous injuries to your neck, head, or jaw
  • Ask you to describe the location, nature, and behavior of your pain and other symptoms
  • Ask you 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.

Your physical therapist will work with you to correct the problems that cause your pain. Simple changes in posture and lifestyle often require focus in three areas: