How can physical therapy help with migraines?

with advice from
Kristina A. Holland, PTA

How can physical therapy help with migraines?

While headaches can be uncomfortable, migraines are debilitating. The sensitivity to light and sound. Nausea and vomiting. An intense throbbing in your head that can last for hours or days. The symptoms can be so severe that, as the Mayo Clinic puts it, “all you can think about is finding a dark, quiet place to lie down.”

Like back pain, treating migraines can be difficult because they can be triggered by many different things. Here are a few reasons you may be suffering from migraines:

  • Weather. Quick changes in the barometric pressure can cause a migraine.

  • Both too much and not enough sleep have been known to cause migraines.


  • Diet. Some people have reported migraines triggered by foods high in sodium or after drinking alcohol, especially wine. Caffeine, in particular, has been associated with migraines.

  • Genetics. Up to 90% of those that suffer from migraines have a family member who also has them.

  • Sleep. Both too much and not enough sleep have been known to cause migraines. (Don’t worry about one night here or there; doctors say migraine sufferers should focus on keeping a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time each day.)

  • Gender. Sorry, ladies: Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men. It’s thought to be a result of hormonal fluctuation, especially with estrogen.

  • Muscular tension. Tightness in the head and neck has been linked to migraines. (Be aware, though, that this could also be a sign of cervicogenic headaches, especially since the symptoms are often similar to migraines.)

Physical therapy can help many people who suffer from migraines.Physical therapy can help many people who suffer from migraines, but it depends on what may be causing them. Kristina Holland, a physical therapist assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee), says that in particular, people who have migraines caused by muscular tension can benefit from physical therapy. She says, “Treatment may include trigger point therapy, posture re-education, and joint or soft tissue mobilizations.” In addition, the therapist may work to increase the range of motion in the neck and upper spine, and possibly the jaw.

If you suffer from migraines regularly, speak to your doctor about what could be causing the headaches. He can work with you to figure out the best possible treatment plan, whether it involves changes in your diet, adding medication, or working with a physical therapist.

Kristina Holland, PTA Kristina Holland, PTA, has been a physical therapist assistant for 7 years at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. She enjoys working with a variety of orthopedic patients, including joint replacements, hand injuries, and cervical and back pain.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on health and wellness, in addition to the below links:

Mayo Clinic. June 4, 2013.

Seven surprising causes of migraine. CNN, February 6, 2012.

Mauskop, Alexander. Seven coping tips for chronic migraine sufferers., February 6, 2012.

Physical therapist’s guide to headaches. Move Forward, American Physical Therapy Association.

Migraines. Taking Charge of Your Health and Well-Being, University of Minnesota.

Sjaastad O, Bovim G. Cervicogenic headache. The differentiation from common migraine. An overview. Functional Neurology, April-June 1991.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.