Headaches Relieved by Physical Therapy

Headaches Relieved by Physical Therapy

Headaches are awful. We’ve all had them, some worse than others, but what happens if you’re experiencing them weekly, or even daily?

Described by the International Classification of Headache Disorders, there are three main categories of headaches; primary, secondary, and cranial neuralgia/facial pain. Primary headaches are when there is no underlying cause or stimulus for the pain in your head and neck, whereas secondary headaches are a symptom of something else such as a cervical spine pathology, allergies, head injuries, caffeine withdrawal, or a more serious systemic illness. The most common types of primary headaches are:

  1. Migraine headaches
  2. Tension headaches
  3. Cluster headaches



Pain Description

Male vs. Female





Throbbing, sensitivity to light and sound

Women > Men

5-60 min

Aura (bright lights, tingling, etc) before headache



Dull, pressure behind eyes


30 min – several hours

Sensitive to lights and sound. Very common.



Burning, piercing behind eyes

Men > Women

15 min – 3 hrs

1-4x/day. Very intense pain.

Cervicogenic headaches are classified as a secondary headache because the head and neck pain arises from a disorder or lesion in the cervical spine (whiplash, sports injury, disc herniation, arthritis, postural abnormality, etc)



Stiffness in neck and occipital regions



Decreased cervical spine range of motion

To be sure you’ve classified your headache correctly you should be evaluated by your doctor. Once identified, if your headache is cervicogenic, treatment will most likely begin with your Physical Therapist in order to target the specific cause of the head (and neck) pain.


Yes, thats correct! A physical therapist can help you with headaches! Often headaches arise from tightness in the neck muscles constricting the blood vessels, or TMJ (grinding your teeth at night), or simple tension in your neck and shoulders with sitting at a computer screen or desk for hours. Of course headaches that arise from whiplash, sports injury, motor vehicle accidents, arthritis, disc herniation and postural abnormalities always fall into the category of fixable with physical therapy.

If therapy is something you have not tried, give therapy with a try. Manual therapy one on one with a therapist is often the only way to calm down the neck and shoulders and stop the origins of most headaches. Physical therapy exercises without manual therapy will not, so be sure you see a therapist who will spend the entire session working on you manually!