How Physical Therapy Can Help With Headaches

Anthony Crespo
Anthony Crespo Clinic Manager at AHS

Headaches, we have all had one at some point in our lives some worse than others. About 47 % of the global population suffer from some form of headache(1). In 2007, 1.5-7% of visits to a primary care physician in North America were to address headaches (2). At the age of 40, one report noted 70-80% of females and 60% of males report experiencing headaches in the US (2). For the most part headaches can be harmless and can resolve themselves with some rest. In some cases an individual may experience frequent moderate to severe headaches which can impact their overall quality of life. Headaches come in many different variations some of which are listed below.

Types of headaches

  • Tension.
  • Cervicogenic or neck muscle-related.
  • Migraine.
  • Secondary headaches from an underlying condition, such as fever, infectious disease, sinus disorder, or in rare cases, a tumor or more serious illness.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches occur when the neck and scalp muscles become tense and contract. Typically the muscle contractions can be a response to stress,anxiety,and injury


Cervicogenic headache is a secondary headache, which means that it is caused by another illness or physical issue in this case 


A migraine is a strong headache that often comes with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. It can last hours or days.

Secondary headache

With a secondary headache, the headache is a symptom. The reasons can range from something as simple as using pain medication too often to a severe problem such as a tumor


There are 3 ways a physical therapist can help you if you have constant headaches

  • Manual Therapy

Physical Therapists are skilled in manual manipulation which comes in handy when addressing headaches. Using proven techniques the manual therapy will alleviate joint and muscle stiffness while at the same time increasing mobility of the head and neck. This will lead to less muscle spasms and relieve any tension that builds up in the head and neck area. 

  • Exercise

The physical therapists will devise a treatment plan incorporating exercises because research has shown various types of SPECIFIC exercises may decrease pain, decrease inflammation and promote overall healing.  

  • Education 

Lastly, a physical therapist can educate the patient. Educational strategies have been found to be helpful at lessening the severity and/or frequency of headaches. A few of these strategies include identifying highly individualized triggers (ie, Sleep, movement, stressors and postural habits)


  1. 3 ways a physical therapist can help Manage headaches. (2020, March 12). Retrieved February 24, 2021, from
  2. Admin. (2013, October 10). Alleviating headaches with physical therapy. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from
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