Physical Therapy for Headaches

With as much time as we spend sitting at desks, typing on computers, and staring at screens, headaches seem to have become more common.

Although sitting with poor posture for hours, typing for an extended time, and focusing intently on a bright screen for long periods may cause a headache, they existed long before these activities and may stem from a variety of causes.

If you have pain in any part of your head, no matter what kind of pain, it’s referred to as a headache.

There is a huge variety of headaches, and each one has a different cause. Physical therapy for headaches aims to diagnose the cause and then treat it thus getting rid of the headache pain.

If you’re curious about the different types of headaches, the International Headache Society lists out the various kinds of headaches.

  • Tension-type
  • Migraine and cluster
  • Secondary headaches that occur from an underlying condition such as sinus disorders, fevers, tumors, etc
  • There are also headaches from facial pain, as well as cranial neuralgia
  • We will add ‘Cervicogenic headaches’ which occur specifically from a disorder in the spine

The vast majority of headaches tend to be harmless, and will go away without any need for medical intervention.

However, there are some headaches, especially recurring headaches, that can affect your ability to perform everyday activities.

This recurring pain can drastically lower your quality of life and should be assessed and treated with physical therapy for headaches.

What are Headaches?

There are a number of different physical complaints people have in regards to pain. You’ll often hear people complain of back pain, of hip pain, or of muscle pain.

Headaches fall right into that category, affecting millions of people every day. This is in part because of how broad a category “headache” is.

After all, any type of pain that occurs in the head is referred to as a headache.

The most common type of headaches in adults are tension-type headaches. These are also referred to as muscle-spasm headaches, since they tend to be caused by a tightness in the muscles around the neck or jaw.

They can also be caused by poor posture, stress, or fatigue. Given most adults work at computers and other desk jobs these days, it’s no wonder this tends to be the most common type of headache.

Many times tension headaches are specifically caused by some other injury or arthritis. These other conditions can cause tension in the muscles at the back of the head.

You’ve no doubt felt a tightness in the back of your neck after sitting with poor posture or laying oddly on your pillow for a long period of time. This tightness is what triggers the headache.

Physical therapy for tension headaches is the quickest way to get rid of the pain.

How Physical Therapy for Headaches Works

Luckily, nearly every type of headache has an effective treatment plan. The difficulty, then, is not in the treatment but rather in the identification or diagnosis.

According to, Physical Therapist Assistants (PTA) will work under the direct supervision of a licensed Physical Therapist (PT) to implement a treatment plan consisting of physical therapy exercises for headaches.

It’s not always easy to judge the cause of a headache, or even what type of headache you’re dealing with.

Once the cause of the headache is diagnosed, it’s possible to determine the best treatment process.

When you go to a physical therapist, they conduct a complete examination of your physical health, as well as your health history.

They’ll ask you a number of questions, and then perform a number of different tests. These tests are designed to help diagnose the cause of your headaches.


  • The physical therapist will do things such as ask you to list previous neck, head, or jaw injuries.


  • They’ll also perform muscle strength tests, attempting to judge the raw strength of the various muscles.


  • They’ll do a thorough examination of your posture, not just when you’re sitting, but when you’re standing and when you’re performing a variety of activities.


  • They’ll also examine the movement of your head and neck, ensuring that you have a full range of motion and that something isn’t stopping you from being able to move correctly.

Essentially, their job is to do a full medical evaluation, walking you through a process that will help determine the exact nature of the pain and why it may be occurring.

Once a physical therapist has worked to diagnose the problem, they’ll help you solve it through physical therapy exercises for headaches.

Sometimes, this will be done with advanced medical equipment, but most of the time physical therapy for headaches consists of simple exercises that can be done at home.

Related Reading: Tips to Reduce Stress and Tennis Elbow Exercises

Reduce Headaches With an Ergonomic Workstation

Ergonomics simply means to have an efficient and comfortable workstation.

Many tension-type headaches are a result of a position, or movement, held for an extended period of time.

It’s amazing how often tension-type headaches can be solved by simply changing your work station, or getting a new pillow, thus adjusting your daily positions and movements.

Here are some ergonomic workstation tips:

  • Use an ergonomic mouse and keyboard
  • Use a gel pad for your wrists
  • Try a headset instead of a phone receiver
  • Adjust the height and angle of your screen
  • Test various chairs and lumbar settings (try an ergonomic desk chair)

It may take some time to test out the best ergonomic setup for you, but try to find what feels best for your body and causes the least discomfort.

Diagnosing Your Headache

Simply ask yourself, how does it feel? Really try to pinpoint the location of the source of your pain.

Typically, a tension-type headache will start at the back of the head, and then spread over the top of the head and the eyes.

People who experience tension-type headaches often can tell when a headache is going to start by the distinct feeling of pressure at the back of their neck.

With a tension-type headache, you may feel facial pain which most often occurs along the cheeks, near the jaw bone.

People who experience tension-type headaches will often complain of things such as a tightness, or a sensation of someone pulling firmly on their hair.

Specific positions can make these symptoms worse, whereas being able to rest and relax the muscles of your head and face can help ease the pain.

Many people begin to feel tension-type headaches after long hours working on a computer.

Migraine and cluster headaches are much more difficult to diagnose and will require a doctor who will examine your entire medical history alongside other tests.

Yoga Exercise for Headache Pain

Yoga exercise for headache pain relief can be very effective using the following 5 poses.

  • Seated Neck Release
  • Viparita Karani – Legs-up-the-wall pose
  • Adho Mukho Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog
  • Ananda Balasana – Happy Baby Pose
  • Uttanasana – Standing forward bend

You can look up each of these yoga exercises for headaches on youtube to see how to perform the poses for maximal relief.

Cervicogenic Headache Stretching Exercises

Cervicogenic headaches tend to increase with higher computer workload. The good news is that physical therapy for cervicogenic headaches is effective.

These headaches can be treated with physical therapy exercises. We will list a few of the helpful cervicogenic exercises here for you to ask your PT about or research more on your own.

  • SNAG (Sustained Natural Apophyseal Glide) These can be performed at home using a towel
  • Quadruped Deep Neck Flexor and Extensor Exercise
  • Inhibiting Upper Traps Exercise
  • Sitting Posture Exercises

Your Turn

Alright, now you know a little more about physical therapy for headaches.

It all starts with diagnosing the cause of your pain, which we know is often from tension.

If you are experiencing recurring headache pain, then you should consider seeing a PT and getting physical therapy for headaches.

If you are a PT, or a PTA, then it is your turn to share some of your experience with headaches in the comments below

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