Have you been suffering from chronic or frequent headaches with no apparent cause? After ruling out possibilities like a brain tumor and sinus infection, your doctor may have sent you home with the advice to lower your stress levels and take pain relievers as needed. This is quite common. And your doctor is not wrong—lowering your stress levels and taking over-the-counter pain relievers can help ease chronic headaches. However, you should also consider seeing a physical therapist for your headaches.

How can physical therapy help with headaches?

In many cases, headaches are related to musculoskeletal issues. They can be caused or made worse by stiffness in the neck or shoulders. Sometimes muscle tension or strained ligaments in the base of the head contribute to the pain, too. These issues are more common these days as people spend a lot of time hunched over and looked at screens. Even if you do not feel the strain and tension in your neck, it can put pressure on various nerves and lead to headache pain.

A physical therapist can use tactics to help alleviate muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and base of the head, thereby alleviating headache pain.

What exercises will a physical therapist have you do?

The exercises used to stretch and strengthen the neck and shoulders are generally pretty simple. Your physical therapist may have you slowly turn your head further and further in one direction as they apply pressure in certain areas. They may have you do various chin raises or shrugs. Often, they will have you practice a certain exercise in their office and then repeat it daily, on your own, at home.

Some of these exercises may give you immediate relief. Others may slowly strengthen certain muscles, helping your headaches to diminish over time.

What other treatments do physical therapists offer for headache relief?

Your physical therapist may also work with you to improve your posture in a way that helps you reduce neck strain and the frequency of your headaches. In more severe cases, they may even have you wear a neck brace for a little while; this prohibits you from turning your head in ways that might aggravate already sore neck muscles. They may also recommend heating pads or cold therapy to use on your neck and shoulders on a regular basis before a headache develops.

Your first stop regarding headaches should be your doctor's office. However, if the doctor rules out any serious causes, turn to a physical therapist. Many headaches are muscular in nature, and that's a physical therapist's specialty.