There’s nothing like a tension headache to put a damper on the spirit of the holidays. When the craziness and stress of the season catches up to you, suddenly decorating, wrapping gifts and baking cookies after a day of work, shopping and running errands can feel like a list of unbearable chores instead of the joyous family time it’s meant to be … especially if you’re battling a headache. Stress can certainly cause a headache, and then the headache itself can cause even more stress.
Even though stress or tension headaches are not typically debilitating, the discomfort that starts at the back of the neck and spreads all the way around your head and into your eyes can be miserable. Rather than suffer and fight your way through, consider working with a physical therapist who can often provide relief from tension headaches by addressing the musculoskeletal problems contributing to the pain.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), tension headaches may be caused by stress, fatigue, poor posture, or problems with the neck or jaw. Up to 80 percent of adults suffer from tension headaches occasionally, and they can last anywhere from an hour to a few days or even up to a week. If you have frequent, severe or chronic headaches lasting more than a week that impede your daily activities, you should see your doctor. Additionally, if a headache feels like the worst pain you’ve ever had, you should also see your doctor immediately. If your symptoms are mild to moderate and infrequent (less than twice a week), physical therapy may be able to help.
After a thorough inquiry and examination to determine the cause and location of your tightness and pain, your PT will customize a treatment plan to decrease or resolve the frequency, duration and intensity of your tension headaches.
Your unique plan will be based on your assessment, which will include measurements of strength, flexibility, mobility and range of motion, examination of posture during various movements, review of previous injuries to your back, neck, head and jaw, and review of pain level and location as well as any other symptoms.
Treatment may include any combination of stretching and strengthening exercises, manual therapy including soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, manipulation and myofascial release, and education around posture, workstation set up, and effective strategies for identifying headache triggers and understanding relaxation techniques.
Beyond your treatment in clinic, your PT will extend your plan of care to include exercises, stretches and suggested modifications to your daily routine and postures that you can pursue at home to help you enjoy the holiday season free from the nagging pain of a tension headache.
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