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Headaches: What Causes Them And When Should I Be Concerned?

Pain of any type that occurs in any part of the head is called a headache. There are many different types of headaches, with just as many causes. Most headaches are harmless and resolve on their own, although severe headaches that recur frequently can affect your ability to do your daily activities and can reduce your quality of life.

What causes headaches?

Primary headaches are caused by overstimulation or problems with pain sensitive structures in your head. These headaches usually involve the chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck. Sometimes a combination of these factors. Causative factors for these types of headaches could be lifestyle factors such as alcohol, certain foods that contain nitrates, poor sleeping habits, poor posture, irregular eating pattern, and of course, stress. Primary headaches are armless and resolve gradually.

Secondary headaches on the other hand, is a symptom of an underlying disease or conditions. Possible causes of these headaches include acute sinusitis, arterial tears, blood clots, brain aneurysm. Brain tumor, concussion, infections, and other illnesses or diseases.

What are the different types of headaches and their symptoms? ​

  • Allergy Headache: Generalized headache; nasal congestion; watery eyes
  • Arthritis headache: Pain at the back of the head or neck which intensifies on movement. It is caused by inflammation of the blood vessels of the head or bony changes in the structures of the neck.
  • Cervicogenic Headache: Pain on one side of the head or face, stiff neck, pain around the eyes, neck, shoulder, and arms, nausea, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Chronic Daily Headaches: Refers to a broad range of headache disorders occurring more than 15 days a month; two categories are determined by the duration of the headache (less than four hours and more than four hours).
  • Hypertension headaches: Generalized or “hairband” type of pain that is most severe in the morning. It diminishes throughout the day.
  • Post traumatic headaches: Localized or generalized pain, can mimic migraine or tension-type headache symptoms. Headaches usually occur on a daily basis and are frequently resistant to treatment.

Why should you go to therapy do to get rid of your headache?

Headaches are common like back pain; physical therapists see and treat this type of pain regularly. Problems in the neck, head, jaw, arthritis, poor posture and injuries can cause headaches and muscle strains. Physical therapists will first determine what is causing your headache and then use an impairment-based approach which combines manual therapy, exercise, AND patient education. For example, poor posture can cause stiffness in your upper back and neck which refers pain to your head resulting in a headache. Therapists can perform mobilization in both the neck and upper thoracic mobilization and then follow up with specific exercises.  Educational strategies like dietary, sleep, posture habits, and hydration will also be given as they have found to be effective at lessening severity of headaches

Physical therapy has been proven to:

  • Decrease medication use for headaches
  • Improve motion in the upper back and neck resulting in improvement of function and mobility
  • Improve quality of life

Physical therapists are movement experts who design personalized treatment plans for a person’s individual needs, challenges, and goals through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. ​


Dr. Jack Wong

Next Level Physical Therapy

"We Help People Age 40+ Stay Active, Healthy & Mobile Without Relying On Pain Meds, Injections Or Surgery"