Physical Therapists Treat Headaches
by Daniel Cox, DPT
AZOPT Glendale Physical Therapist

Increased digital device use and ‘screen-time’ are becoming a major contributing factor to more frequent complaints of headaches. Recent studies actually estimate that one out of every 6 Americans suffer from headaches. This means the odds are that you, or someone you are close to, are experiencing headaches, sometimes debilitating.

While the cause of these headaches can be widely varied, most headaches can be grouped into three major types: migraine, cluster, and tension. One of the main types of tension headaches is known as a ‘cervicogenic’ headache, meaning it is stemming from the neck, back and shoulders.

A licensed physical therapist is expertly trained to treat the musculoskeletal problems, including the soft tissues and joints of the head, neck, jaw, shoulders, and mid-back, which often contribute to headaches. Your therapist should begin by using hands-on techniques such as joint and soft tissue mobilization, joint manipulation, dry needling, and other individualized practices to improve your symptoms. Those techniques will then be reinforced by a personalized exercise program that includes aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening, and stretching to improve range of motion. All of this will help identify where you ‘carry your stress’ to help reduce the strains causing headaches.

While there is a less direct cause of migraine and cluster headaches, many of the triggers stem from the same musculoskeletal components that, compounded by stress, lack of sleep or other environmental factors, are enough to trigger a migraine. Your therapist can help identify and improve many of these and, in some cases, prevent a ‘regular headache’ from turning into a migraine or cluster headache, or maybe even preventing a headache at all by giving you the tools to identify and stop it.

In some cases, a headache is more than a headache. A physical therapist can perform a full assessment of your symptoms and rule-out any concerning causes or symptoms such as recent trauma, new-onset headaches or sudden significant change in headache behavior. Once evaluated, your therapist will develop an individualized plan of care to improve and alleviate your symptoms, or recommend referrals to other specialists.

If you are experiencing chronic headaches that prevent you from living the life you want, call AZOPT and schedule an evaluation with one of our licensed physical therapists to begin the process of feeling better, functioning better and living better!


The Prevalence and Impact of Migraine and Severe Headache in the United States: Figures and Trends From Government Health Studies. Burch R1, Rizzoli P1, Loder E1.

Graham Headache Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA