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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 Babin PT 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 BabinPT Physical Therapy 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 Babin Physical Therapy — 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 Babin Physical Therapy today for more information.

Neck Pain and Headaches from Stress

Stress is nothing more than our reaction to a provocation that upsets our physical and/or mental equilibrium. Therefore, stress is an inevitable part of life. Nevertheless, when we are faced with stress, our “fight or flight” response can be triggered; this causes the production of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol to increase and rush through your body.

 

About Your Neck Pain and Headaches

 

Simultaneously, muscles in our neck and scalp may contract. These muscle contractions occur when we are faced with stress, anxiety, or depression. When these muscles contract they often cause dull, nagging headaches that often turn into full-blown migraine headaches.

 

Robert Gotlin, DO, director of Orthopaedics and Sports Rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City says this about neck pain,

 

“As stress goes up I definitely see more patients with neck pain. Every year around tax time, the number of patients with neck pain increases, especially among Wall Street types here in New York.”

 

Another cause of neck pain is structural and results from a neck joint issue. This type of a headache is known as a neck headache or more properly as a Cervicogenic headache. Research shows that fixing the neck can end a headache. The joints usually associated in a neck headache are:

  • Atlanto-occipital joint (O-C1)
  • Atlanto-axial joint (C1/2)
  • C2/3 cervical spine joints

When your neck joints are too tight, a headache can result in just a few minutes. Not all stress is bad, however. Stress within your comfort level helps you to perform under pressure, keep you motivated and to keep you safe when danger is evident.

 

How Many Types of Headaches Are There?

 

Headaches come in many sizes and pain levels, however, there are four distinct types of a headaches:

 

  1. Tension
  2. Sinus
  3. A migraine
  4. Cluster

 

Tension headaches are the most common of all headaches and can occur simply from holding your head in one position for too long. Some of the activities that can lead to a tension headache from this source are:

 

  • Staring at a computer screen
  • Working with a microscope
  • Fine work with one’s hands

Other causes of tension headaches include:

 

  1. Physical or emotional stress
  2. Caffeine (too little or too much)
  3. Sinus infections from a cold or the Flu
  4. Alcohol consumption
  5. Eye strain
  6. Fatigue
  7. Tobacco use

 

Serious debilitating headaches are a warning that you should seek medical attention; tension headaches, however, are most often just a nagging annoyance, though some can be painful enough to disrupt your daily activities.

 

How Do I Deal with a Tension Headache?

 

Since tension headaches are the most common of all headaches, here are three tips on how to deal with tension headaches.

 

Relax – Tension headaches are called this for a reason; relaxation and stress relief can help alleviate your headache. While stress is an undeniable part of life, an overabundance of stress can lead to more serious diseases such as high blood pressure or heart disorders. Activities that strain your neck and back should be curtailed and stretching breaks should be a regular part of your work day.

 

Fix Your Workplace Ergonomics – A headset for your telephone, proper monitor positioning for your computer, a desktop riser that lets you work while standing. In addition, make sure your eyeglasses and contacts prescription are current.

 

Stretch Your Muscles – Stretching is a great way to release tense muscles in the neck. Try stretching with a general exercise program designed by a trainer or physical therapist that is specific to your needs.

 

Headaches can be inconvenient and painful. Talk with your physical therapist today to see if your headaches are stemming from neck pain or stress and learn how to treat them effectively! Contact Babin Physical Therapy and speak with our physical therapists!

 

Sources

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-causes-and-effects.htm

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000797.htm

https://www.everydayhealth.com/neck-pain/neck-pain-reduce-stress.aspx

https://www.painscience.com/articles/tension-headache.php

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/symptoms-causes/dxc-20211470

https://www.healthline.com/health/tension-headache

https://physioworks.com.au/injuries-conditions-1/neck-headache-cervicogenic-headache