Headaches and Physical Therapy

We all know that dreaded feeling of a dense fog moving in, recognizing that a headache is coming on. Generally, we know what’s triggered them, too.

It could be dehydration.  It could be fatigue.  Or it could also be your poor posture.  Physical therapy might not help with your fluid intake or your sleep patterns, but it could help your headaches in other ways.


There are several causes of headaches that originate from muscular or skeletal dysfunctions. Some headaches originate from neck and upper back tightness and weakness, slouched posture, stress or jaw clenching.

Pain relief medications, whether prescriptive or over-the-counter, may temporarily mask the headache, but likely it will come back until you get at the root of the problem.

Physical therapy can help decrease headache frequency and severity by teaching patients exercises to help stretch and strengthen muscular imbalances, showcasing proper posture to decrease stress on the head and neck, and suggesting stress management techniques and strategies.

During a physical therapy appointment and evaluation, a physical therapist will also utilize hands on, manual therapy techniques. The PT may use muscle release techniques, stretching, and spinal mobilization to help restore the correct alignment of muscles and joints to reduce headaches and improve the way patients move.

If more therapy is needed, a physical therapist may also suggest cervical traction, a treatment option that helps stretch muscles; ultrasound treatment, which provides deep-heat to localized tightness or spasms that contribute to headaches; or heat and electrical stimulation to help decrease muscle pain and tightness.  In addition, with a prescription from a physician, the physical therapist may also utilize dry needling techniques to help to reduce trigger point pain.

To learn more about physical therapy and how it can be used as a means to treat and prevent headaches, find a physical therapy clinic near you and make your own appointment.

When you visit a physical therapist for the first time, be prepared to spend about an hour with the clinician talking about the history of your pain and going through a series of movement tests to see your range of motion, strength and mobility. Knowing how long you’ve suffered and how you move will give the therapist the information they need to develop customized treatment plans.

Briana Aiken, PT, MPT, DPT is a physical therapist at the Tidewater Physical Therapy clinic in the Denbigh region of Newport News, Va.