The fact that the season of giving, joy and celebration can also be our most stressful time of year is one of the worst kept secrets of the Holidays.
And yet, year after year, we charge forward, often fighting through tension-type headaches to complete our shopping, plan for get-togethers with friends, and fulfill all our family obligations.
But why fight through the headaches, asks Seattle physical therapist Erik Norwood, when a physical therapist can often provide relief from tension-type headaches by correcting the problems that cause the pain?
“A tension headache often starts with pain or dysfunction at the back of the head or neck – discomfort that can spread around your head, and even to your eyes,” said Norwood, owner at Renew Physical Therapy in Seattle. “What we as physical therapists can do, after a thorough examination and a series of questions, is determine the likely causes of your headache. Then, we can treat these causes.”
According to the World Health Organization, a tension-type headache (TTH) is the most common primary headache disorder in the world, typically related to stress or associated with musculoskeletal problems in the neck.
One study published in the U.S. Library of Medicine called tension-type headaches the second-most common illness worldwide, affecting 80 to 90 percent of people at least once in their lives.
Tension headaches, as they’re often called, are frequently described as a feeling of pressure or tightness, often like a band around the head that spreads into or from the neck.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), these headaches may be caused by stress, fatigue, poor posture, or problems with the neck or jaw – like an injury.
“Once we determine the cause of your tightness and pain, a PT can work with you to correct the underlying problem that’s leading you to experience these headaches,” Norwood said. “This can be fatigued muscles from bad posture, or a lack of strength or mobility in your neck and shoulders.”
Often, treatments will focus on three areas: improved posture, improved strength in the upper back, neck and shoulders, and improved mobility in the neck and spine through stretching and pain-reducing movements. This is also known as manual therapy.
“We’ll not only provide relief through treatments in the clinic, but physical therapists also work with people to correct the issues which caused the headache in the first place, be it improving posture or simple changes in lifestyle,” said Norwood. “PTs always treat with an eye toward future prevention.”
If the Holiday Season has already become a headache for you this year, schedule an assessment with the Renew Physical Therapy team to learn more about what’s causing your tension headache and how it can be successfully and affordably treated through physical therapy.