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Headaches Explained


Headaches are generally classified in one of six major categories that include sinus, cluster, tension, migraine, TMJ and cervicogenic (neck) type headaches. Mechanical Physical Therapy is particularly successful at treating cervicogenic (neck), tension type and TMJ type headaches. Here is a brief overview of causes of headaches and an explanation on treatments as well as prognosis.

The task of an examination, as in other areas of the spine, is first to determine those who are not appropriate for conservative treatment. Further, the evaluation process identifies those with “red flag” features that should be referred for further investigation. Your medical history is very helpful in illuminating whether or not you might heal well from conservative treatment.

Strong evidence (Oxford level A,B) tells us that patients who are correctly diagnosed with cervicogenic headache can significantly reduce their headache severity. These patients can also increase their neck range of motion with skilled manual physical therapy and a low-load exercise program directed to the upper cervical spine.

A solid customized rehabilitation program provided by an expert physical therapist will include patient education with a thorough home exercise program and manual physical therapy such as soft tissue mobilization, IASTM, trigger point therapy and other types of manual treatment. The treatment plan should include strengthening of deep neck flexors, neck and back motor function as well as postural exercises. Modalities are also very helpful in speeding up recovery, especially when using appropriate resources such as electrical stimulation, cold laser or cryotherapy, to name a few. While the previously mentioned interventions do not speak of all treatments for headaches, these are fundamental treatments that have the most impact on healing you quicker.


Patients that would most benefit from skilled cervicogenic treatment include those with tender neck muscles, deformity of the neck such as a tilted or forward head in a side locked position or those with headache symptoms that have some shoulder or arm pain. Other patients that would benefit from treatment include those with pain on one side of the head around the front, side and eye area. If you have restricted neck rotation motion from a flexed position, you might be a great candidate for conservative treatment of headaches by a skilled physical therapist. Please contact us at any of our clinics for questions about our effective headache treatments.