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Tension-Type Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches, affecting millions of people worldwide. Characterized by a dull, constant ache that often feels like a tight band around the head, tension headaches can be incredibly debilitating and significantly impact one's quality of life. While over-the-counter pain medications can provide temporary relief, they don't address the root causes of tension headaches. That's where Well Balanced Physical Therapy comes into play. In this blog post, we'll explore what tension headaches are, their causes, and why seeing a Well Balanced physical therapist is the answer for long-term relief.

What Causes Tension Headaches?

Tension headaches, also known as tension-type headaches or stress headaches, are typically described as a constant, tightening (non-throbbing) pain that affects both sides of the head. They are often accompanied by muscle tenderness, trigger points and referred pain, especially in the neck and shoulder region. While the exact cause of tension headaches is not fully understood, several factors are believed to contribute:

  • Muscle Tension: As the name suggests, muscle tension plays a significant role in tension headaches. When muscles are overloaded or overused, muscle injury occurs and can cause trigger points, or "knots". Prolonged contraction and tightness in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back can exacerbate these headaches.

  • Central Nervous System Sensitivity: Pain starts local and eventually becomes widespread as inflammation increases. Overtime, this causes an increase in sensitivity of the central nervous system.

  • Stress and Anxiety: Emotional and psychological stress can lead to muscle tension, contributing to the development of tension headaches. Stress management techniques are crucial in addressing this aspect of tension headaches.

  • Poor Posture: Maintaining poor posture for extended periods, such as slouching while working at a computer or hunching over a smartphone, can strain neck and shoulder muscles, leading to tension headaches.

  • Lifestyle Factors: Inadequate sleep, dehydration, and poor dietary habits can also contribute to tension headaches.

Why Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy offers a holistic approach to treating tension headaches by addressing the underlying causes rather than simply masking the pain with medication. Here's why physical therapy is the answer to finding long-term relief:

  • Posture Correction: Oftentimes poor posture causes muscle imbalances and tension. The muscles on the front of the neck are overstretched and weak, and the muscles at the base of the skull and neck are tight or inflexible. At Well Balanced, we are experts evaluating your posture and then creating a personalized exercise program to alleviate tension and reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches.

  • Ergonomics: Your posture may depend on the task at hand. During your PT session, we will provide guidance on improving ergonomics at work and home. We will teach proper body mechanics and exercises to encourage better posture, reducing the strain on your neck and shoulders.

  • Stress Management: Stress is a significant contributor to tension headaches. Physical therapists can teach relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation, to help you manage stress effectively.

  • Hands-On Techniques: Physical therapists can perform manual therapy techniques, such as massage, joint mobilization, and myofascial release, to release tight muscles and improve range of motion.

  • Education and Lifestyle Modifications: PTs provide valuable education on lifestyle modifications, including sleep hygiene, nutrition, and hydration, which can impact headache frequency and intensity.

  • Dry Needling: With muscle overuse, knots or trigger points can develop, causing pain and discomfort. Ember is level 1 certified in Functional Dry Needling®, which has been shown to significantly improve headache frequency, health-related quality of life, trigger point tenderness, and cervical range of motion. Book a session with her today to learn more and see if dry needling is right for you!

  • Customized Home Exercise Program: Each individual's experience with tension headaches is unique. Physical therapists design personalized home exercise programs tailored to you in order to target specific muscle groups that need strengthening or stretching. Depending on your situation, some exercises that can help include chin tucks, upper trap stretching and mobilizing, pectoral stretching and thoracic extension. To learn more about these exercises, check out our Instagram!

Tension headaches can be incredibly debilitating, but they don't have to control your life. Physical therapy offers a holistic, comprehensive and non-invasive approach to addressing the root causes of tension headaches. By focusing on muscle tension, posture, stress management, and lifestyle adjustments, physical therapy can provide long-term relief and improve your overall well-being. If you're tired of relying on pain medications to manage your tension headaches, consider consulting a Well Balanced physical therapist to embark on a journey toward a headache-free life.

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