Understanding Tension Headaches
Among the three types, tension headaches are the most common form and they are often the result of stress or fatigue. In addition to tension, fatigue and stress, factors that have been associated with the onset of headaches include prolonged desk work or manual labor, dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits, and even poor posture.
If the factors that are triggering them are not properly identified and addressed, headaches may become chronic. In some cases, however, neck, back, and shoulder pain may be contributing to the occurrence of persistent headaches. A constant headache may also be the result of an underlying condition or serious injury.
The brain itself does not contain nerves that are responsible for pain sensations - which means the brain tissue itself can’t “hurt”. The actual pain of headaches originates in structures or tissues in the surrounding regions of the brain and, therefore, a headache typically signals an issue in the body that needs to be addressed.
Most headaches can be easily treated with over the counter pain relievers (e.g., aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen). Chronic headaches may require a more therapeutic approach, especially if the headaches may be the result of pain referred from the body (e.g., neck or upper back pain). In such cases, physical therapy can help address the cause of the headaches, and in doing so, reduce their occurrence.
If an individual is suffering from tension headaches, for example, therapy may involve teaching the person relaxation and coping strategies that can be used when stressful situations arise that have been found to be the triggers for their headaches.
If it is believed that body pain (e.g., shoulder or back pain) is causing the tension hea
daches, then physical therapy will more than likely focus on relieving muscle tension as well as teaching an individual stretching and strength-training exercises. Once a physical therapist feels as if an individual has learned how to properly perform the exercises, he/she can then be incorporated into a home exercise program.
Individuals who continue to engage in physical therapy exercises generally experience relief from headaches and body pain. Furthermore, the therapeutic techniques can become a long-term approach to avoiding the headache triggers, stopping a headache if it does start, or reducing its intensity and frequency.