Physical Therapy for Headache & Pain

What are you looking for or measuring during an initial physical therapy evaluation?

At an initial evaluation, the focus is on answering three questions:  "Can I reproduce this person's symptoms?", "Can I alleviate this person's symptoms?", and "What about this person's examination is different from a nonaffected individual?".  Generally, if an individual's symptoms can be reproduced or alleviated through the application of light pressure or manipulation, the physical therapist can isolate and identify those structures which are contributing to or causing the pain.

What physical therapy approaches are most helpful for chronic headache sufferers?

Many headache sufferers have already utilized various relief measures and treatments, such as heat and ice, and use them at home.  The most effective treatment for the chronic headache patient is to find the underlying structural cause or contributor to their illness and focus treatment on this area.  For example, the physical therapist may be able to identify a specific joint in the neck that is moving poorly, or a spasm in one of the small muscles in the face or neck that when mobilized and stretched can significantly reduce or eliminate the pain being experienced by the patient.

Does physical therapy produce permanent pain relief?

That depends.  When a physical therapist can get at the root of a problem, such as poor mobility in a joint or muscle spasm or postural dysfunction, and address that problem, the results can be longer lasting.  The patient may need to perform a few exercises in order to maintain the improvement.

How do you define a successful physical therapy outcome?

Pain decreases and life becomes easier.  Daily activities are not so difficult.   Range of motion is restored.  Physical activity and exercise can be resumed without increasing pain.  However, the most successful outcome is when a patient feels that success has been achieved and established goals have been met.

How is physical therapy provided when patients live far away from the Institute?

Actually, this describes the majority of the patients seen at MHNI.  The initial PT evaluation becomes a part of the overall multidisciplinary approach utilized by the patient's treatment team.  If a patient cannot attend MHNI for regular therapy visits, then our physical therapy team looks for a therapist in their own community who is well-trained and experienced in treating headache.  The initial evaluation, assessment, and treatment recommendation are then forwarded to that local therapist.   Preferably, the patient is seen back at MHNI to assess their progress and to provide further recommendations after they have been in physical therapy for a while.