• Billy Gilhooley

The benefits of Physiotherapy for tension headaches

Headaches affect over 500, 000 people regularly in Australia, making them one of the most common health complaints we get at Specific Physiotherapy Preston. Although they can have a detrimental influence on work, relationships, and family life, headaches are rarely significant in and of themselves. This blog examines tension-type headaches and explores how physiotherapy might offer a non-drug treatment.

What are tension headaches?

Tension type headaches are the most common type of headache, and yet they are often underrated and misunderstood. People who suffer from tension type headaches often feel like they have a tight band around their forehead, or like their head is in a vise. The pain can range from mild to severe, and it is often exacerbated by stress or muscle tension. While the exact cause of tension type headaches is not known, there are some factors that are thought to play a role. These include changes in brain chemistry, muscle contractions, and trigger points in the head and neck. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments for tension type headaches, including massage, relaxation techniques, and pain relievers. If you suffer from tension headaches, don't suffer in silence - talk to your physio about treatment options.


How can Physiotherapy help tension headaches?

A forward head position causes muscle tightness and imbalances that can lead to headaches; as a result, physiotherapy can assist in the treatment and prevention of tension headaches by:


correcting postural imbalances

tailoring an exercise program to strengthen weak muscles

providing stretches to tight muscles

reducing muscle tension with deep tissue massage

decreasing joint stiffness with joint manipulation and mobilisation

evaluation of workstations and advice for headache prevention


Any consultation for headache patients begins with a thorough interview and physical examination to rule out any possible causes or types of headache that might not be amenable to physiotherapy treatment and to establish baseline measurements to act as a point of comparison for monitoring the patient's progress. Following the evaluation, the patient begins receiving treatment, which usually entails applying particular manual therapy techniques to the patient's cervical spine for pain relief and movement restoration.


5 physio exercises to reduce your headaches

If you suffer from headaches, you're not alone. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, headaches are the third most common type of pain worldwide. While there are many potential causes of headaches, one often-overlooked factor is poor posture. When your head and neck are out of alignment, it can put unnecessary strain on your muscles and nerves, leading to pain. Luckily, there are a few simple physiotherapy exercises that can help to improve your posture and reduce your headaches.


  1. Chin tucks are a simple movement that can help to improve your posture and alleviate neck pain. To perform a chin tuck, start by sitting or standing tall with your shoulders back and down. Next, tuck your chin towards your chest, feeling a gentle stretch in the back of your neck. Hold this position for a few seconds before releasing. You can also perform a chin tuck while lying down by starting with your head in a neutral position and then gently nodding your chin towards your chest. Repeat this movement 10-15 times to help improve your posture and reduce neck pain.

  2. Upper trapezius stretch is a simple exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime. One of the most common areas of tension and pain is the upper trapezius muscle, which extends from the base of the skull to the middle of the back. This muscle is often overloaded from poor posture, stress, and repetitive motions. To perform the upper trapezius stretch, sit up tall in a chair with your shoulders relaxed and down. Place your right hand on top of your head so your fingers are pointing towards the left ear. Gently pull your head towards your right shoulder without shrugging your shoulders. You should feel a gentle stretch in the left side of your neck. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.If you are looking for a deeper stretch, you can place your left hand on the chair next to you for support. Use your right hand to grab hold of your left ear and lightly pull it towards your right shoulder. Gently tilt your head forward until you feel a stretch in the upper trapezius muscle. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.Regularly performing this stretch will help to alleviate tension in the upper trapezius muscle and improve range of motion in the neck.

  3. The Cat Cow Stretch is a simple, yet effective way to stretch and strengthen the back. To begin, come down onto all fours with the hands directly beneath the shoulders and the knees directly beneath the hips. As you inhale, arch the spine up into a “cat” position, allowing the belly to sink down towards the floor. As you exhale, round the spine up into a “cow” position, letting the head and tailbone drop down. Repeat this sequence 10-15 times, moving slowly and mindfully with the breath. The Cat Cow Stretch is not only an excellent way to loosen up the back muscles, but it can also help to relieve tension and headaches.

  4. Scapular retraction is an effective way to combat poor posture. This exercise help strengthen the muscles that support the shoulder blades, and they can be dont anywhere, at any time. To perform scapular retraction, simply pinch your shoulder blades together and hold for five seconds. Repeat this exercise 10 times, and do it several times throughout the day. With regular practice, you'll soon see an improvement in your posture.

  5. Self massage of sternocleidomastoid, a muscle that extends from the base of the skill to the collarbone, can be an effective way to relieve tension in this muscle that refers headaches. Start by pincer gripping (placing your fingers on either side of the sternocleidomastoid), just below the jawline (pictured). Gently hold tender areas that refer headaches, working your way up and down the muscle. You can increase the pressure as needed but proceed with caution.

How can I ease tension headaches?

Some easy modifications in lifestyle can reduce headaches:


Drink plenty of water and eat balanced meals frequently

Be careful not to consume too much alcohol or coffee

Get a good night's sleep and steer clear of prolonged sitting positions

Adopt the proper seating position (particularly when working at a desk)

Regularly have your eyes checked

Avoid direct sunlight and screen reflections, and make sure it's not too loud where you're working


Why do headaches decrease after physiotherapy treatment?

We must appreciate the anatomy of the nerve supply to the upper neck and head in order to comprehend this. The trigeminal nerve is the nerve that delivers sensation to the majority of the head and face. The same part of our brain that receives sensory data from the top three segments of our cervical spine also processes input from this nerve. The trigeminocervical nucleus is the name of this region in the brainstem. Due to cross-talk between the nerves that come from the neck and the nerves that come from the head, a patient with stiffness or tightness in the neck frequently have headache pain. Referred pain is a term used to describe this and can occur frequently throughout the body.


In addition to this mechanism, upper cervical spine physiotherapy is frequently effective in treating headache patients who do not even have neck discomfort or stiffness. This is due to the trigeminocervical nucleus becoming overly sensitive in people who have headache and migraine, which frequently explains why minor triggers like particular foods, alcohol, or hormonal changes might be enough to push it over the edge and result in a headache or migraine. Numerous headache and migraine patients find success with physiotherapy since it has been demonstrated in physiological research that specialised physiotherapy techniques of the upper cervical spine can desensitise the trigeminocervical nucleus.


Book a physiotherapy appointment today

Headaches are a specialised area that we can successfully treat at Specific Physiotherapy Preston. Visit our Contact page or schedule an appointment right now to make an appointment if you have any additional questions about how we may help with your headache.



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