What Causes Headaches? How physiotherapy can help.

What Causes Headaches? How physiotherapy can help.

headacheHeadaches are one of the most common and treatable health problems worldwide. When headaches become frequent and chronic, they can greatly interrupt life’s enjoyment.

Headaches are experienced when the pain receptors in your head and neck have been triggered. There are many factors which can trigger this pain, these include:

  • Stress
  • Muscle Tension
  • Poor Posture- putting excessive strain on the back and neck muscle
  • Dental or jaw (TMJ) problems
  • Injury to the head, neck or spine
  • Arthritis
  • Impaired sleep
  • Sinus Infections
  • Migraine

Stress is a state of mind and a signal of danger. Our primitive bodies react the same to modern day stresses such as deadlines, not performing to our high standards, tiredness, too many demands etc, as it once responded to being chased by a sabre tooth tiger! Our sympathetic nervous system is triggered and our muscles tense ready for the “flight, fight or freeze” response. Physical or emotional stress can trigger muscle tension and lower one’s tolerance to pain. Physiotherapy can help treat recurring headaches caused by musculoskeletal problems related to stress by:

  • Stress-relieving exercises, such as breathing, muscle meditation and relaxation
  • Specific massage releasing muscular tension (variety soft tissue techniques, trigger point release, acupuncture, laser etc.)
  • Here at Physio Body and Sole we can teach you some valuable de-stress breathing exercises, and you may like to join a group Yoga class or enjoy a one-on-one session with Liz. Yoga helps restore muscular flexibility, core strength and balance. A home program can be made specifically for you Learn More

Muscular tension is the most common cause of headaches. A tension headache feels like a tight and constant band of pressure around the head and is often associated with muscle tightness in the head, neck or jaw. Tight muscles may compress nerves supplying sensory information/pain to your head, or from trigger points in tight muscles referring pain up to the head.


Poor postural alignment (Poke neck posture, hunched shoulders) of the spine and neck can refer pain into the head. Physiotherapists teach postural correction and mobilise stiff joints to relieve pressure or irritation on nerves that may be causing a headache. Over many years poor posture can result in joint changes and arthritis in the neck. Physiotherapy can help treat recurring headaches caused by poor postural habits by:

  • Identifying activities that may be contributing to stress to the neck and shoulders
  • Joint mobilisation (for stiff joints and to relieve pressure on nerves)
  • Education and correction of posture and movement
  • Strengthening weak postural muscles

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) pain is often referred to other parts of the body, including the head, neck, shoulders, and upper back. A person’s jaw is positioned by the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. This fit is called “occlusion.” Sometimes the occlusion of the teeth forces the jaw into a position which strains the muscles. Over time, the overworked muscles of the jaw become exhausted, causing inflammation and pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), or jaw joint area. Physiotherapy can help treat jaw muscle causing headaches by:

  • Identifying poor postural habits contributing to jaw position
  • Releasing tight muscles using trigger point therapy, muscle energy technique, massage, and laser
  • Teaching stretching and strengthening exercises as required to rebalance the muscles around the jaw
  • Craniosacral therapy (see below) treats jaw problems using very gentle techniques releasing the jaw internally.
  • Refer to a dentist who specialises in malocclusion if necessary

Physio Treatments:

Physiotherapy looks at the whole body to treat; spine, muscles, nerves, alignment… how you function, move and feel.

  1. Joint mobilisation and specific muscular releases (massage techniques)
  2. Postural correction
  3. Education about work place set up
  4. Stretching and strengthening exercises tailored to you
  5. Craniosacral therapy is an additional, specialised treatment available here at Physio Body and Sole. It can be very effective in treating long term headaches.  Often seemingly everything else has been tried and this gentle treatment helps.  It involves specific and gentle hands on connective tissue treatment. It releases tight tissues around the head, neck and jaw. The bones in the face and head are mobilised very gently relieving pressure in the head and neural mobility optimised. It stimulates drainage of craniosacral fluid and restores mobility of the fibrous connective tissue surrounding the nervous system , particularly at the junction between the head and neck where many headaches emanate from Read More

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