How to relieve tension headaches

The New Year means new possibilities … and also new responsibilities. From recommitting to work life to fighting through annual resolution challenges, all the way to considering the approach of another tax season, we often find ourselves fighting through tension-type headaches as we commit ourselves to living healthier, happier lives.

Not surprisingly, each new year SOL Physical Therapists are called upon to provide relief from tension-type headache disorders by correcting the musculoskeletal problems that are causing the pain.  “There is effective treatment for almost every type of headache,” reports the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). “The challenge lies in determining the type of headache, its cause, and in developing an appropriate treatment plan that will reduce both its frequency and intensity.”

Understanding Tension Headaches

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 APTA, such headaches may be caused by stress, fatigue, poor posture, or problems (such as an injury) with the neck or jaw.

“The most effective treatment for the chronic headache patient is to find the underlying structural cause or contributor and focus treatment on this area,” states Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute (MHNI). “For example, the physical therapist may be able to identify a specific joint in the neck that is moving poorly, or a spasm in one of the small muscles in the face or neck that, when mobilized and stretched, can significantly reduce or eliminate the pain being experienced by the patient.”

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Treating Tension Headaches

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 the use of stretching and pain-reducing movements – also known as manual therapy.

  1. Improved Posture
  2. Improved Strength in the Upper Back, Neck and Shoulders
  3. Improved Mobility in the Neck and Spine

“When a physical therapist can get at the root of a problem, such as poor mobility in a joint or muscle spasm or postural dysfunction, and address that problem, the results can be longer lasting,” adds the MSNI. “The patient may need to perform a few exercises in order to maintain the improvement.”

If the New Year has already become a headache for you, schedule an assessment with a SOL Physical Therapist to learn more about what’s causing your tension headache and how it can be successfully and affordably treated through physical therapy.


MSNI: Physical Therapy for Headache & PainAPTA Move Forward: Physical Therapist’s Guide to HeadachesiHATEheadaches: Headache StatisticsWorld Health Organization: Headache disordersTheraSpecs: Facts and Statistics for Migraine and Headache Disorders

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