Do You Suffer From Stress-Related Headaches?
When you see someone at work or in a difficult situation clutching his head, you may assume either that he’s under extreme stress, or that he has a headache.
In fact, you may be right on both counts. Both physical and emotional stress can cause tension headaches; they can also trigger cervicogenic and migraine headaches, any of which can leave you effectively disabled.
You may struggle with chronic or recurring headache pain yourself — in which case, you’re probably tired of taking pain relievers all the time. Maybe it’s time you found a better answer by consulting our physical therapist.
Physical therapy can ease your headache symptoms by treating their underlying causes, giving you a safer, more sustainable headache management strategy.
PT and stress-related headaches
Pain relieving drugs such as NSAIDs can relieve the occasional headache, but they can’t address the stresses that lead to chronic headache problems. For that level of relief, turn to physical therapy.
Our physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes an examination of your neck and cervical spine, discussion of your symptoms, and analysis of lifestyle factors that may be sources of stress. This background allows us to create a headache management program largely rooted in the management of stress and its effects.
This program may include:
- Mindfulness exercises such as yoga to help you add more serenity to your daily life
- Suggestions for changing or sleep position or trying a different kind of pillow
- Chiropractic adjustments to correct cervical spinal alignment
- Ergonomic adjustments such as changing your computer monitor height (to prevent constant neck droop)
- Dry needling to ease stress-induced tension and pain
- Massage therapy to relax a chronically tight neck
- Exercises to limber up your neck or strengthen your neck muscles
Why is stress resulting in headaches?
Emotional stress and physical stress are closely linked, with either capable of causing or aggravating the other. Perceived crises can cause muscles to tighten up as the body goes into “fight or flight” mode.
When that tightness affects small muscles at the base of the skull, such as the RCPM muscle in the neck, those muscles may pull on a pain-sensitive membrane in the head called the dura mater. The dura mater responds by sending out waves of pain, giving you a classic tension headache.
Cervicogenic headaches also originate in the neck. These headaches are often caused by alignment problems or imbalances in the cervical spine. These imbalances place the neck muscles under physical stress, producing both headaches and neck pain. Emotional stress can also play a role in cervicogenic headaches, since the muscle tightness they create can help to pull the neck out of alignment.
Last but certainly not least, migraines are the most dreaded of headaches. In fact, a migraine attack may go far beyond the crushing headache it is notorious for producing, causing symptoms such as:
- Visual distortions known as “auras”
- Sound and/or light sensitivity
- Nausea and vomiting
While it’s hard to pin down the underlying causes behind migraines, many of triggers are well known – and they include stress. In addition to various foods, bright lights, loud sounds, weather changes and hormonal swings, migraines can be set off by physical overexertion or emotional strain.
What else could be causing my stress-related headaches?
One of the main causes of stress-related headaches is right there in the name: stress. The headache generally happens when the muscles in the neck or scalp become tense and contract.
Depression and anxiety are similar emotions to stress that can also lead to headaches. In addition, there may be a physical cause behind your stress-related headaches. An accident or injury to the neck or back can contribute to headaches. Poor posture and arthritis are two other potential causes.
The treatment of your stress-related headaches will depend in part on the diagnosis. For example, one course of treatment that would work for correcting your posture and strengthening the neck muscles might not be appropriate if your headaches are the result of a past injury.
In general, you can expect stretching and strength training to be part of your treatment. Other options that your physical therapist might employ can include:
- McKenzie therapies
- Cervical traction
- Body mobilization
- Hot and cold compressions
- Soft tissue mobilization
Aside from your physical therapy sessions at the clinic, your therapist will also recommend exercises, stretches and lifestyle changes that you can make at home, which will all contribute to eliminating your headaches.
Schedule a consultation with a physical therapist today
Conquer your stress, and you may just conquer your chronic headaches as well. Get in touch with our physical therapist at Good Hands Physical Therapy to learn more about this drug-free approach to headache relief!