Alleviating Migraine and Headaches with Physical Therapy
For chronic sufferers of migraine and tension headaches, day-to-day life can sometimes come to a screeching halt. Often triggered by environmental factors – such as poor sleep, overexertion at the gym or at home, poor posture, caffeine withdrawal, or exposure to excessive light or noise – migraine and headaches affect the body systematically, resulting in light sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, and mood swings.
While migraine and headaches, when severe enough, are commonly treated by neurologists, physical therapy (PT) can be referred and incredibly beneficial in reducing re-occurrence and symptoms, and improving overall quality of life.
“PT is exercised-based healing that can be done for neurological conditions, sports-related injuries, musculoskeletal disorders, balance disorders, post-operative rehabilitation, and much more,” explained Heather Borrelli, Physical Therapist at Jefferson Cherry Hill Hospital.
“One of our primary goals is to restore functionality to our patients,” said Borrelli. “If they’re experiencing difficulty carrying out normal job duties or simple home tasks, we work with them to create an individualized exercise program, as well as educate them on what is needed for long-term health and success.”
After migraine and headache patients are thoroughly assessed by their physical therapist, and the causes and skills needed are determined, body mechanics can be addressed.
Headaches can be categorized as primary and secondary; primary headaches (including migraines) are what is most commonly, and safely, treated with PT. These result from the environmental triggers discussed above. Secondary headaches evolve from underlying medical conditions, such as sinus infections or seizures.
“If you experience secondary headaches, PT is NOT the appropriate treatment option, UNLESS the underlying condition is already being properly treated by another medical professional,” explained Borrelli.
PT can help migraine and headache sufferers by:
- Addressing and adjusting poor posture
- Addressing trigger points that may be referring pain
- Stabilizing the neck muscular structure to aid in continued relief
- Implementing a home exercise program for continued proper posture/ergonomics.
“Specific exercises differ depending on the patient’s skillset and any habits that may be contributing to muscle imbalance,” said Borrelli. “Thorough history-taking and teamwork are necessary. If the patient follows their home exercise program, severity and frequency would lessen greatly.”
“Keep in mind, poor posture is a very common cause of migraine and headaches, because it creates a lot of tension in the neck and at the base of the head,” said Borrelli. “If you can work on breaking those habits, it can make a huge difference. Other general exercises that help relieve this physical tension are deep breathing and meditation.”
PT sessions typically last around 45 to 60 minutes, and occur two or three times a week for a total of four weeks. At that time, reassessments and adjustments are made, and your physical therapist and physician will determine whether further treatment is needed.