Millions of people suffer from different types of headaches. A few include sinus headaches, hormone headaches, and migraines.
Different types of stress can also play a role in causing headaches. In fact, stress-related headaches are considered one of the most common headaches that people have.
It’s important to understand how a stress headache differs from other types, the causes of these types of headaches, and how a physical therapist may be able to help.
Common symptoms of stress-related headaches
Stress-related headaches can vary widely in severity, although they’re rarely as debilitating as migraines. They tend to a generalized ache over a broad region of the head, as opposed to attacking a specific area such as the eye (a trademark of another type of headache called a cluster headache).
The tension that brings them on may stem from emotional stress (if that emotional stress creates chronic neck tightness), but it may also be caused by:
- Weak neck muscles that become fatigued easily
- “Text neck,” a strain disorder that occurs if you’re always drooping your head forward to look at your smartphone
- Repetitive motion or overuse from work or sports activities
- Secondary pain problems such as arthritis in the cervical spine
Stress-related headaches that bother you for more than 15 days out of the month for 3 months or more are considered a chronic pain condition.
Physical therapy and headache relief
Physical therapy might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering treatment options for headaches.
Physical therapy, however, may be the ideal treatment if you’re experiencing tension or stress headaches.
A physical therapist would probably conduct a review of your medical history and conduct a thorough evaluation of your current physical abilities and limitations.
A specific treatment plan could then be created that would address your individual condition.
There are several specific ways that physical therapy can help reduce stress-related headaches.
- Lifestyle changes. A physical therapist can teach you new ways of sitting, standing, and even different ways to complete daily tasks that can reduce the stress and tension that contributes to stress headaches. Over time, even improved posture may be able to decrease the amount of headaches you experience.
- Stretching exercises. Stretching exercises can help loosen tight muscles and ligaments in your neck and back that are contributing to your headaches. Certain stretches may also strengthen muscles in your neck and back. You can reduce pressure in your neck and shoulders as the muscles become stronger and more flexible.
- Heat and/or ice compression. Alternating between heat and cold therapy can often reduce the tension and stress in muscles. It not only reduces muscle strain but can provide immediate soothing relief.
- Soft tissue mobilization. Massage and other types of manual therapy can often provide immediate relief from pain associated with stress headaches. A physical therapist using the correct massage techniques can help prevent contractions in the shoulders, neck, and head that can cause headaches.
What can I expect from my physical therapy treatments?
Over-the-counter pain relievers may reduce the symptoms of stress-related headaches for a few hours, but they do nothing about the stresses and strains that are making those headaches recur day after day.
If you want a more lasting solution, physical therapy is a good place to start. Our physical therapist will administer an examination to see whether you’re dealing with tension headaches or with some other type of headache that requires a specialist’s attention.
In addition to the aforementioned techniques, physical therapy strategies for treating tension headaches include:
- Exercises to strengthen your neck muscles, allowing them to hold the weight of your head more evenly and with less strain
- Postural and ergonomic advice to help you get rid of any bad habits that might be causing “text neck”
- Flexibility exercises, manual therapy, heat therapy and/or ice therapy
- Stress reduction measures such as yoga, lifestyle changes, and advice on how to reduce common stress triggers in your life.
Why am I experiencing stress-related headaches?
There are several reasons that you may be suffering from a stress-related headache. Anxiety, fatigue, and general stress can all contribute to headaches.
Certain health-related conditions, including arthritis, can cause headaches. Even poor posture can contribute to stress-related headaches.
The stress an individual is experiencing can make muscles tense and also cause blood vessels to dilate.
This can cause stress-related headaches and may make other types of headaches, such as migraines, worse.
So, what exactly are stress-related headaches?
A stress-related headache is sometimes called a tension headache.
You might experience a dull, achy pain along your forehead or through the back of your head. The pain sometimes starts in the neck or shoulders and progresses through areas in the head.
Sometimes there may be aching or pain in the jaws and cheeks. During stressful situations our bodies often go into fight or flight mode.
Certain chemicals in the brain can be released during this time that can cause a variety of changes in the body that result in pain.
Consult with a physical therapist today
If you’re struggling with stress-related headaches an individual physical therapy plan may be able to reduce or even eliminate your headache pain.
You’ll want to contact a physical therapist who can help alleviate your headaches and get you on the path to a pain-free life.