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How Can Physical Therapy Help Your Headache?

How Can Physical Therapy Help Your Headache?

by George Zakharia, DPTLeave a Comment

Physical therapists are special health practitioners, but did you know they can treat people from head to toe? That certainly includes treating those dreaded headaches. Read on to learn more about headaches and the power physical therapy has in treating them.

Why Physical Therapy?

Nearly half of the world’s population suffers from some form of headache which may include tension, migraine, or cervicogenic headaches (commonly known as neck-derived headaches).1 Headaches can significantly lead to disability and poor quality of life which is why physical therapy should be your next stop if headaches seem to chronically affect you.

According to research, patients with migraine headaches have shown an 18% improvement in migraine frequency when treated with physical therapy and medication combined as opposed to medication alone. Those who were also treated with physical therapy reported better feelings of self-perception in global change compared to patients who only took medication to control their migraines. This means they felt a bigger difference in their headache treatment when they sought physical therapy.2

How Do Physical Therapists Treat Headaches?

Physical therapists can treat headaches with hands on treatment to stretch neck muscles, mobilize contributing stiff neck and upper back joints, and provide tension-relieving massages to trigger points that may be causing headaches. All of these methods may improve headache intensity and duration.3 The best part is that physical therapy will include self-management exercises to help you improve your flexibility and strength of tight and weak muscles contributing to your headaches. These strategies can teach you how to improve headaches independently or prevent headaches in the first place without the heavy reliance on medication.

Preventing Headaches

Physical therapy and regular exercise can also help with the prevention of migraines. Several major health and medical organizations recommend that patients engage in regular exercise as a means of managing and preventing migraines. These include:

You can also take comfort that there is little evidence that physical therapy or regular exercise can worsen migraines.4

Physical therapy also works for management of tension headaches and neck-derived headaches also known as cervicogenic headaches which are a chronic and recurrent form of headaches. This type of headache stems from tight neck musculature, stiff neck joints, and poor posture. Research shows that physical therapy can significantly help decrease headache intensity and frequency as well as neck pain. Physical therapists can use hands on manipulative treatments which may involve quick small movements, slow, relaxing oscillating movements, and neck stretches which work well to improve the symptoms mentioned above. To further the benefits from manipulative treatments, physical therapy will focus on postural neck strengthening activities to improve headache symptoms while sustaining them long term.5

Don’t Wait, Physical Therapy Can Help

If you find yourself suffering from chronic headaches of any type, physical therapy may be for you! You can schedule a Free Assessment at a local Athletico Physical Therapy. Our experts will take a look at no-cost and provide the best recommendations for your headache relief! Free Assessments are available in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform.

Request a Free Assessment

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Page, Phil. “Cervicogenic Headaches: an Evidence-Led Approach to Clinical Management.” International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, Sports Physical Therapy Section, Sept. 2011,
2. Bevilaqua-Grossi, Débora, et al. “Additional Effects of a Physical Therapy Protocol on Headache Frequency, Pressure Pain Threshold, and Improvement Perception in Patients With Migraine and Associated Neck Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, W.B. Saunders, 21 Dec. 2015,
3. Fernández-de-Las-Peñas, César, and Carol A Courtney. “Clinical Reasoning for Manual Therapy Management of Tension Type and Cervicogenic Headache.” The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, Maney Publishing, Feb. 2014,
4. Irby, Megan B, et al. “Aerobic Exercise for Reducing Migraine Burden: Mechanisms, Markers, and Models of Change Processes.” Headache, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2016,
5. Jull, Gwendolen. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Exercise and Manipulative Therapy for Cervicogenic Headache.” Spine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2002,

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George Zakharia was a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy at the time of this blog.

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