How to Find Relief from Stress-Related Headaches

Headaches are the third most common pain complaint throughout the world. They are debilitating and can greatly impact a person’s quality of life.

Fortunately, relief is possible. By working with a trained Total Body Therapy & Wellness physical therapist, you can experience immediate pain relief from stress-related headaches and other ailments that may be contributing to your suffering. In this guide, we’ll outline the different types of headaches and the causes for them, and explain how physical therapy can help.

Types of Headaches

Pain of any sort that occurs in the head is called a headache. Many resolve on their own and don’t need intervention. However, severe headaches that recur frequently and interfere with quality of life often demand further evaluation. The challenge lies in identifying which type of headache you’re experiencing and then devising a treatment plan accordingly. Physical therapists are adept at diagnosing different types of headaches and can develop  pain relief strategies for stress-related headaches.

There are 10 common types of headaches:

  • Stress (tension)
  • Post-traumatic
  • Cluster
  • Hormone
  • Caffeine
  • Migraine or sinus
  • Exertion
  • Rebound
  • Hypertension

What Are Stress-Related Headaches?

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache in adults and older teens. They often appear as a result of poor posture, increased stress, neck or jaw problems, fatigue, or arthritis, although it’s possible to experience them when feeling anxious, depressed or stressed. They occur when the neck and scalp muscles contract or become tense, and they can happen at any age.

Stress-related headaches generally start at the back of the head and progress to the top of the head and eyes. Sometimes, facial pain along the jaw and cheeks accompanies the headache. They have been compared to wearing a tight hat, having hair pulled or a squeezing of the head from the ears inward.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your health history and a careful physical examination. He or She will ask you a series of questions to determine the type of headache you’re experiencing and determine the best route for pain relief.

During your first visit, you can expect to undergo some of the following:

  • Tests of your muscle strength and sensation
  • Questions regarding previous injuries to your neck, head, jaw and back
  • Inquiries about the location and types of pain and other symptoms experienced
  • Measurements regarding the range of motion of your shoulders, neck and other relevant parts of the body
  • Manual therapy to ascertain the mobility of joints and muscles in your neck
  • Examination of your posture while engaged in different activities

If your physical therapist determines that you’re dealing with stress-related headaches, you’ll work together to develop a plan for care to meet your physical health goals. If the evaluation determines a different type of headache, your physical therapist will likely refer you to a different type of health care professional.

Goals of Physical Therapy

While the end goal of physical therapy is pain relief, there are some important steps along the way that your physical therapist will help you address so that you can achieve a decrease in pain.

Some of These Include:

  • Improvement of your posture. Your posture throughout the day greatly impacts your level of pain and likelihood of stress-related headaches. Your physical therapist will teach you methods of improving your posture for a greater quality of life.
  • Improvement of neck movement. Using manual therapy, your physical therapist will stretch the muscles in the back of your neck to relieve pain and increase movement.
  • Improvement of strength. You’ll learn exercises to help strengthen the muscles that control your upper back and neck so that your posture improves, and you’re able to endure standing and sitting for longer periods without discomfort.

Pain Relief Methods

While each treatment meets the needs of individuals, most physical therapists use methods that range from soft tissue mobilization, heat or ice compressions, muscular releases, cervical traction, body mobilization, stretching, strengthening, muscle energy techniques, and McKenzie-based diagnosis and therapy of the spine. With all treatment plans, you can expect to receive education that will supplement your in-office experience.

Persistent and life-altering headaches may not go away without physical therapy. To experience long-lasting pain relief and improve your quality of life, contact our Lillington, NC office today.

Tension Headaches: How to Handle Them

Of the four distinct types of headaches — tension, migraine, sinus and cluster — the tension type is the most common. Of course, stress is a natural reaction to stimuli and can keep us safe from danger. Yet an excessive amount of stress can lead to tension headaches. That’s why learning how to handle emotional and physical stress can help reduce the severity and frequency of tension headaches.

If you’re concerned about your headaches, contact us — and read on, for some helpful tips about coping with tension headaches.

How the Body Reacts to Stress

When the “fight or flight” response is triggered, our bodies become flooded with protective hormones like adrenaline, which leads to a chain reaction of neck and scalp muscles contracting. These physical reactions often result in either tension or migraine headaches.  

Muscular overuse is another factor that leads to tension headaches. Holding your neck or shoulder joints in an unnatural position for too long causes supporting muscles to go into spasm. In turn, the muscles compress the adjoining nerves, sending pain impulses to your brain that result in headaches and sometimes a sore neck.

Working at a computer, bending over a work table or holding a phone to your ear for prolonged periods are all frequent causes of tension headaches from physical sources.

Additional Causes

Along with muscle-bunching activities like desk work, here are a few other factors associated with tension headaches:

  • Emotional stress
  • Fatigue
  • Excess alcohol
  • Fluctuating caffeine levels
  • Eye strain
  • Use of tobacco products

Dealing With a Tension Headache

Here are three of the most common tips concerning how people effectively deal with tension headaches:

  • Stretch your neck muscles regularly. Tense muscles in the neck region are often tension headache culprits. Physical therapy can also help.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Whether it’s deep breathing, yoga or walking on your lunch break — finding a way to de-stress is key to stopping tension headaches before they start.
  • Adjust your ergonomics. Your workplace setup can cause headaches. Consider simple adjustments like setting up your monitor to a more comfortable position, and getting a headset for your telephone.

If you have a severe headache, especially if it’s an unusual type for you, seek immediate medical attention. Tension headaches, on the other hand, don’t require emergency care — but they can still be painful and interrupt your normal routine. We may be able to give you the tools you need to decrease the severity and frequency of these annoying headaches. Contact Total Body Therapy & Wellness today for more information.


Muscle Tension Headaches

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June is Migraine and Headache Awareness month.  In honor of this month, we will be discussing some headaches and how they can be treated with physical therapy!  Headaches can be very debilitating.  They not only cause pain, but can severely limit your concentration, daily functions, and even your ability to work.  Many people think there is nothing that can be done for a headache besides taking medication and “sleeping it off”.  But, there may be more you can do than you think!

Muscle Tension Headaches

Many headaches are muscle tension headaches.  They are caused by tightness in your neck muscles.  Many of the muscles in your neck attach at the base of your skull, just above your hairline.  When these muscles become tight, they shorten in length and actually cause a constant pull on the back of your head.  It is literally as if someone is yanking your head back all day long!  Most tension headaches occur in the back of the head, but can move to the top or front of the head if the pull is intense enough.  One simple way to check if your headache is a muscle tension headache is to test your neck range of motion.

Testing Neck Range of Motion:

Turn your head left, right, up, down, and bend your ears to your shoulders:

  • Does it feel tight?
  • Do you feel as if your neck will not move as far as it normally does?
  • Does one direction move less than the others?
  • Are your neck and shoulder muscles sore if you press on them? 

These are signs that the headache may e due in part to muscle tension and tightness.

Exercise Can Help!

Basic neck and upper back exercises can assist in stretching the tight muscles and decreasing their pull on the head.  Many times neck and upper back stretches will be beneficial in  decreasing headache intensity or frequency, even if muscle tension is not the main underlying cause.

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More Treatment Options

Dry needling, traction, and sub-occipital release are other physical therapy techniques that have shown great success in decreasing muscle spasms, improving movement and decreasing headache symptoms.  Ask your doctor if physical therapy would be right for you.  Many times, your doctor will also prescribe medicines for pain, inflammation, or muscle tightness in conjunction with therapy to speed along the healing process.  talk to your doctor or physical therapist with any questions you may have regarding your specific condition.  So the next time you can’t get out of bed, need to lay down, leave work or other activities early because of a a splitting headache, just remember you have more alternatives to feeling food than you think!


Blogger: Dr. Sara S. Morrison, PT, DPT, CDT, FCE, CFT, Cert DN, Cert FMT

Neck & Headache Workshop at TBTW

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We all have experienced neck pain, it was short lied from making a wrong turn or lasting longer than planned due to an accident.  Neck pain is one of the top three pains that can become a long term problem if not addressed early on.  Neck pain can affect anyone. There is no race, age, or gender that is significantly affected the most.  A study was conducted where 512 office workers filled out a survey over a course of the year and by the end of the study over 45% reported neck pain.

Due to this high volume of individuals who currently suffer from neck pain, Total Body Therapy and Wellness is hosting a FREE Workshop on Neck Pain and Headaches on April 27th, 2017 at 6 pm.  The workshop will discuss how you can treat your neck pain and headaches without expensive treatments like medication, injections, or surgeries.  Come out to our workshop to learn more about your neck pain or headaches and how to get stop the pain!

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Chronic neck pain is having consistent neck pain for more than 3 months and it can be harder to treat if put on the back burner.  That is why if you encountered an injury at work or home or have been having consistent neck pains, it is important to see your doctor.


Migraines can also be a chronic condition and can be debilitating.  Migraines and headaches are easily mistaken as they have similar characteristics.  According to the Mayo Clinic, a migraine is a type of headache that is more severe in pain and disabling.  Migraines usually happen on one side of the head and are followed by sensitivity to light or sound, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, which can last for days and be disabling.  While a headache is a general description of head pain, there are different kinds of headaches that are classified depending on the cause.

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Physical therapy can help with both conditions with therapeutic exercises, massage, traction, electrical muscular stimulation, and working on a home exercise program. Studies have shown including, Effectiveness of Physical Therapy with Tension-type Headache: Literature Review, that going to physical therapy for neck pain and migraines can help reduce pain and muscle tension while improving neck stability and flexibility.

Don’t suffer with your neck pain and headaches any more!  Come to our Neck Pain and Headache workshop to learn how you can eliminate your pain!  RSVP at (910) 893-2850!



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Blogger: Christina Williams, PTA