Long-time Redmond physical therapist Wes Rau recently offered a simple long-term solution for tension-type headaches (TTH) – the most common primary headache disorder in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
“Quit your jobs, and quit hanging out with people you don’t like,” said Rau of Step & Spine Physical Therapy in Bend, Redmond and Sisters. He also points out that exercise and counselling are equally great ways to reduce stress.
Despite the sage advice, however, Rau knows such approaches are more long-term in nature and that tension headache relief often requires a little help. And physical therapists are ideally equipped as health care professionals to address tension headaches at the source.
“You could probably fill a room with the reason people have headaches,” Rau said. “The common problems are poor posture, stress, computer work, and any forms of accidents – car wrecks, skiing accidents, falling off your horse – that injures the spine and ligaments.”
In other words, any issue related to stress or musculoskeletal problems in the neck can cause tension-type headaches. That covers a lot of area, which is likely why a recent study published in the U.S. Library of Medicine called tension-type headaches the second-most common illness worldwide, affecting 80 to 90 percent of people at least once in their lives.
Tension headaches are frequently described as feelings of pressure or tightness, often like a band around the head that spreads into or from the neck. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) points out that fatigue is also a common cause of such headaches.
According to Rau, the first step in treating a tension headache is determining the source of the pain or discomfort, then providing treatment that delivers relief and the building blocks for long-term prevention.
“Most of what I do for headaches is restoring joint mobility,” Rau said. “That’s a lot of joint mobilization, movement, stretching, manual traction, unloading the spine, and exercises to maintain the movement once you’ve got it.”
Rau also focuses on improving the patient’s posture as well as improving strength in the upper back, neck and shoulders.
“A lot of us have weak musculature,” he said. “We sit at a computer all day, and we don’t use our muscles. It’s getting worse, and I’m seeing it more in kids now than I’ve ever seen it before because they have shoddy posture.”
Physical therapists like Rau are specifically trained to provide tension headache sufferers with relief while putting them on track toward a more comfortable, pain-free future. Through an assessment, Rau and others on the Step & Spine Physical Therapy team can determine what’s causing one’s tension headache and how it can be successfully and affordably treated through physical therapy.