How to Relieve Chronic Headache Pain

Mar 8, 2017

Jenni Ribbens

by Jenni Ribbens
PT, DPT | South Chandler Location

Chances are if you do not suffer from regular headaches, you know someone who does. According to a clinical perspective published in the Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, “Headaches are the most common pain disorder, affecting 66% of the global population”.2
There are many different causes of head pain and the most common type are tension headaches, making up 38% of those who experience chronic headaches2. In this post, you will learn about the different types of headaches, what tension headaches are, and how physical therapy can help alleviate pain from tension headaches.
A headache is pain in any part of the head. They can present themselves in different ways and have many different causes. The International Headache Society has developed a classification system to help clinicians determine the causes of headaches. Headaches can be caused by muscle tension, migraines/cluster headaches, and cranial neuralgias, and they can be secondary to another condition such as trauma to the head, neurovascular disorder, fascial pain, and many others3.
Headaches can often be debilitating and affect one’s daily life and recreational activities. Thankfully, they are often a very treatable condition once the cause is known. Physical therapy professionals are trained to evaluate all these conditions and are experts in treating tension headaches. If it is determined that you have another type of headache, your therapist will be able to refer you to the appropriate treating physician.
Tension headaches are caused by muscle spasms in the head and are the most common type of headaches in adults. There are many reasons why the muscles in your head might spasm including poor posture, fatigue, stress, neck pain, and even jaw pain. Tension headaches are often described as starting at the base of the skull and radiating up the back of the head toward the eyes. This is often brought on by certain positions, like sitting at a desk, and are usually alleviated by changing from that position.
So how does physical therapy help you treat tension headaches? First, the physical therapist will perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine the cause of your headache. This evaluation consists of a subjective and objective interview, asking you questions, and performing specials tests.
Once the cause is determined, the physical therapist will work to create a patient-specific plan of care to help alleviate your headaches. This plan will work to improve cervical mobility through specialized manual techniques, and improve your strength and posture through exercises. The therapist will also teach you ways to manage your headaches and prevent them from returning through both postural and lifestyle changes.
Headaches don’t have to be a way of life; there are many outlets available to you to help treat your headaches. Physical therapy is just one easy way to help you alleviate your chronic head pain and get you back to the life that you want to live.
Don’t let headaches stop you anymore, contact your nearest Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy clinic for an assessment of your head pain.

  1. Furto, E. A. (2011, September 20). Physical Therapists Guide to Headaches. Retrieved February 25, 2017, from
  2. Hall, T., Briffa, K., & Hopper, D. (2008). Clinical Evaluation of Cervicogenic Headache: A Clinical Perspective. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 16(2), 73-80. doi:10.1179/106698108790818422
  3. International Headache Society. (2013). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalagia, 33(9), 629-808. doi:10.1177/0333102413485658

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