Physiotherapy And Headaches - How We Can Help

By Athlete's Care on January 07, 2019

Toronto Physiotherapy


Everyone gets headaches now and then. Our Toronto physiotherapists treat a wide variety of aches and pains that involve the musculo-skeletal system, but the common garden variety of headache isn’t usually on their radar. Occasional headaches are nothing to worry about. When they become a daily – or nearly daily – reality that interferes with other areas of your life, then headaches require serious treatment.

Physiotherapy for headaches is a relatively recent innovation that has developed over the last decade or two, and can show remarkable improvement for some patients who haven’t responded to other types of therapy. The key lies in determining what is causing the pain, and whether physical therapy can alleviate the problem.

What Type Of Headache Is It?
Headaches are among the most common of all health related issues anywhere, and the International Headache Society lists over 300 types. According to WHO (World Health Organization,) in developed countries, about half of men, and a third of all women, suffer from tension-type headaches.

At one time, it was thought that abnormalities in the blood vessels, and therefore the blood flow, in and around the brain were to blame for migraines and some other types of headaches. More recently, however, the consensus seems to be leaning towards dysfunctions of the cervical spine instead for some cases, known as cervicogenic headaches. That’s where physiotherapy can come into the loop.

  • The cervical spine consists of seven vertebral segments from the base of the neck into the skull.
  • Though relatively small in size, the neck structures around the spine are intricate and complex, consisting of the spine, muscle, ligaments, tendons, and nerves that need to be both strong and flexible.
  • Possible causes include stuff or swollen joints in the neck, inflamed nerves, tightness and/or scarring of the soft tissues.

With the level of complexity, it’s not surprising that many people experience issues related to the cervical spine. Physiotherapy is most useful in cases of chronic and fairly benign – i.e. not severe – headaches. A research study published in 2004 found that regular (non-specialized) physiotherapy treatments helped reduce the frequency of chronic tension headaches. 

Symptoms are typically consistent.

  • A cervicogenic headache originates in the cervical spine, but the pain typically radiates to the back of and top of the head.
  • Pain and stiffness may become worse as you move your head or neck, and if you stay in the same position for extended periods of time.
  • Other symptoms can include tenderness of the muscles and joints, reduced range of motion and mobility of the head and neck, weakness, and even a lightheaded feelings.

What Your Toronto Physiotherapist Can Do

Once other causes have been ruled out, and a cervicogenic headache has been diagnosed, your physiotherapist can begin to determine what is causing the pain.

  • Manipulations and exercises can help alleviate the pain;
  • Background information can help point out where lifestyle issues are causing mechanical dysfunctions, such as poor posture while sitting at a desk for many hours;
  • Treatment will be customized to your specific condition, with the goal of alleviating pain and improving range of motion, if applicable.


If you are experiencing chronic headaches, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Toronto physiotherapists to discuss whether treatment might be right for you. You can call one of our Toronto physiotherapy, chiropractic, and sports medicine clinics today for a consultation.