The pounding pain was relentless and almost nauseating. What had begun as mild pain behind her left eye was now making driving seem like a bad idea. What to do? Did this call for a trip to the ER, or could she just go home and try to sleep it off? When do you call a PT?
Sorting out when a headache is just a headache can be daunting, especially when you are in the middle of it. But ruling out bigger problems is important. Here are some symptoms that, if accompanying your headache, require further investigation:
- Double vision
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty walking a straight line
If any of these symptoms accompany your headache, call your doctor right away.
If, however, the headache is something you’ve experienced before, and you’ve ruled out bigger problems, you may well have a headache that comes from musculoskeletal tightness. The top three vertebrae in the neck might be the first place your therapist investigates. Any well-trained PT will check the ligaments at the base of the skull to make sure instability is not the culprit. But problems in the bones and joints that create headaches can come from farther away as well.
For example, lower back or sacral tightness can also cause problems all the way up the spine, particularly at the top. At one time in my life, if I had a headache, the only way to treat it was to correct the mechanics in my lower back and pelvis. I was always astonished because, though my back felt fine, it was the cause of my headache more often than not. So don’t be surprised if your therapist looks well beyond your head and neck for causes of your headache.
Tightness in the chest, or poor posture (think hunching over a computer all day) cause your head to glide forward, placing undue tension on the arteries and muscles at the base of the skull. Often coupled with a tight chest are shoulders that fall forward. Sometimes, simply taping the shoulders into a better resting position can reset the muscles of the neck and ease the pain almost like magic.
If the neck is addressed and problems persist, an evaluation of cranial mobility is wise. A therapist trained in cranial sacral therapy can easily evaluate the quality of cranial motion and make necessary corrections. Cranial manipulation can be an effective tool for treating headache pain.
The list goes on: If you grind your teeth, or have a poorly aligned bite, you are at risk for headaches. Grinding might mean high stress levels, and “they don’t call them tension headaches for nothin’.” So yes, stress can contribute to headaches. Multiple tools are available to address these issues, including relaxation breathing, Qi Gong, and BodyTalk.
As you can see, the causes of headaches are numerous and variable. No one treatment approach solves all headache pain. Because we understand the multiple causes of headaches, ALTA therapists do the important detective work required to find the source of your head pain. We won’t stop investigating until the problem is solved and your headache is gone. Be aware of the “red flags” listed above, and if they don’t fit your symptoms, give us a call – headache relief is in your future.