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Your Health

Physical therapy: An aid in headache relief


courtesy of Kim Gladfelter
Physical therapists can reduce the recurrence of some headaches by relieving nerve pressure in the neck.

All of us get headaches from time to time, and the pain from most resolves quickly without much thought. However, severe headaches that recur frequently can inhibit your lifestyle. Physical therapy can effectively manage many types of headaches, allowing you to return to the activities you enjoy.

A number of factors can trigger headaches, including vascular problems, sinus problems, dehydration, lack of sleep, concussions and tumors. Most commonly, headaches are due to stress or tension in the muscles and joints. Physical therapy can reduce or eliminate those headaches that are musculoskeletal or mechanical in nature.

Determining the cause of a headache is the first step toward treatment. It may not surprise you that many patients who report frequent headaches also experience neck pain – these two symptoms are often connected. What is the culprit for these linked problems? All too often, poor posture is to blame. Many people are hunched over their computers for a good portion of their workday, and proper posture falls by the wayside. This causes tension in the muscles at the back of the neck and increases pressure on the nerves that distribute to the head.

Fortunately, there are effective treatment programs to eliminate the debilitating headaches caused by muscle tension and poor posture. Through proper guidance and rehabilitation, physical therapists can improve your neck mobility, stretch and relax your muscles and reduce pressure on the nerves. Therapists can also incorporate a traction technique on your neck to decompress the nerves that get pinched. Such treatment restores muscle relaxation and joint function to your head and neck, thereby reducing headache symptoms.

You can learn specific exercises to engage muscles that stabilize your upper back and neck. The most effective strengthening exercises address weakness in the deep muscles of the neck and the stabilizing muscles around the mid-back. Exercises that keep the neck long, as if a string were pulling you up from the top of your head, can decompress your neck as well.

Building an awareness of proper positioning for work, sleep and activities in your daily life can also reduce headaches. If you work on a computer, read, write or talk on the phone with compromised posture, it puts undue strain on the neck disks and joints that contribute to headache problems. Conferring with a physical therapist about modifications to your workstation can do wonders to alleviate pain and reduce headaches for the long term.

If you suffer from frequent headaches that impede your everyday life, there is hope. Relief may be as simple as rebalancing and strengthening muscles around your neck, back and head. Successful treatment can only begin when all contributing factors are addressed. By consulting with a physical therapist, you can identify the root cause of your symptoms and embark on a headache-free existence and a happier lifestyle.

Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Los Altos. For more information, call 947-8500 or visit physiofitpt.com.

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