Physical Therapy for Headaches

Physical Therapy Treatment of Chronic Headaches and Migraines

by Kirsten Watson, PT

Did you know physical therapists treat chronic migraines and headaches? We love treating headaches at our clinic, as physical therapy is often very effective, and our patients are extremely grateful for the relief they experience following our services.

Headaches affect 47% of the global population and are often caused from modifiable behaviors or musculoskeletal dysfunction.1 Approximately 15-20% of chronic and recurrent headaches are diagnosed as related to musculoskeletal impairments, often cervical dysfunction.2

Treatment of headaches by physical therapy is well documented in the scientific literature, and has been found effective at reducing pharmacological management, decreasing duration and frequency of migraines, and improving subjective rating of quality of life.3,4,5 Physical therapists most often treat chronic headaches and migraines with manual therapy techniques, exercise, and education.

Manual therapy techniques utilized at our clinic include soft tissue mobilization, trigger point dry needling and myofascial release, joint mobilizations, manual or mechanical cervical traction, and passive stretching. These techniques help to decrease pain, improve joint mechanics, and increase tissue extensibility for improved cervical mobility. 

Therapeutic exercise helps to empower our patients to take an active role within their healing and maintain the benefits of physical therapy. Each patient has an individualized home exercise program with specific exercises for decreased pain, increased strength or endurance, improved flexibility or range of motion, and posture modification.

Education is an integral part of our treatment, as we teach patients how to identify modifiable risk factors and avoid common triggers of headaches such as poor hydration, limited sleep, stress, and faulty posture. We often couple this education with use of therapeutic modalities which are effective at reducing pain and promoting enhanced patient satisfaction.

There are many associated conditions with chronic headaches and migraines treated at our clinic including post-concussion syndrome, TMJ dysfunction, and vestibular hypofunction or dizziness. Our physical therapists are well versed in clinical red flags and screening for more serious pathological conditions which would warrant immediate referral back to our referring physicians.

Let us help you Experience Better at your local Central Nebraska Rehabilitation Services clinic! Please contact us today to learn more about how we can help with your headaches or migraines.

Works Cited:

  1. Blanpied PR, Gross AR, Elliott JM, et al. Neck pain: revision 2017.J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017;47(7):A1–A83.
  2. Kisner, C., & Colby, L. A. (1996). Therapeutic exercise: Foundations and techniques. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.
  3. Fernández-de-las-Peñas C, Cuadrado ML. Physical therapy for headaches. Cephalalgia. 2016;36(12):1134-1142. doi:1177/0333102415596445
  4. Espí López G.V., Ruescas-Nicolau M.A., Nova Redondo C., Benítez-Martínez J.C., Dugailly P.M., Falla D. Effect of soft tissue techniques on headache impact, disability, and quality of life in migraine sufferers: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2018;24(11):1099–1107.
  5. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2016;97(6):866–874.