Does Physical Therapy Play a Huge Role in Relieving Migraines?

Does Physical Therapy Play a Huge Role in Relieving Migraines?

Discover how physical therapy can provide effective relief for different types of headaches, including migraines, tension headaches, and cervicogenic headaches. Explore passive and active therapies that can reduce intensity and frequency of migraine symptoms.


Among all neurologic diseases and headaches, migraine is still under-treated and under-diagnosed, despite its prevalence of 14.4% worldwide. Aside from the usual prescription medications, migraine sufferers may turn to physical therapy, such as hot and cold therapy and soft tissue mobilization.

How exactly does physical therapy work for different types of headaches? What are the benefits of this treatment on migraines? We'll guide you through the types of physical therapy that may work for your migraines.

Types of Headaches Relieved by Physical Therapy

Studies show that there are three types of headaches that could be relieved by physical therapy, reducing the intensity and frequency of such.

Cervicogenic headaches: Known as a chronic headache often found in one or more regions of the head, it is a commonly misdiagnosed headache that could be relieved by physical therapy. Although difficult to diagnose, cervicogenic headaches often manifest as neck pain that extends to the head. This type of headache usually stems from stiff neck joints, muscle tightness, and nerve irritation. Physical therapy often alleviates the pain and muscle tightness from cervicogenic headaches, where a licensed physical therapist can work on strengthening the muscles of the neck and upper body and increase range of movement.

Tension headaches: Characterized by a "tight band around head" sensation, this type of headache is the most common type of headache, impacting 2 in 3 adults in the United States according to the American Migraine Foundation. Some factors contributing to tension headaches are poor posture, lack of sleep, and stress. Physical therapy is the most commonly used non-pharmacologic treatment, with different modes including relaxation, massages, postural exercises, thermotherapy, and stretching.

Migraines: Typically ranging from moderate to severe, migraines may last from four to 72 hours alongside vomiting, nausea, and increased sensitivity to sounds, light, and odors, as per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

How Could Physical Therapy Help?

According to the National Headache Institute (NHI), physiotherapy is arising as a promising treatment options sans the side effects of prescription medications. For migraines, there are two types of physical therapy methods recommended: passive and active.
Passive physical therapies refers to treatments or therapies being done on the patients themselves, rather than doing the action themselves. Mainly meant for acute pain, such as lower back pain, passive therapy is performed under the supervision of professional (chiropractor, licensed physical therapist, etc).
Spine-Health states that heat and/or ice are the most commonly used type of modality. However, there is also iontophoresis, which is a process in which steroids are delivered through the skin. In addition, patients can engage in some passive exercises that involve the patient allowing a therapist to move their body for them in an effort to regain range of motion.

Therapists may use cutting-edge devices designed to aid in the relief of muscle tension and pain from migraines. The RENPHO Active Thermacool Massage Gun features a super powerful brushless motor that delivers deep tissue penetration, reaching a depth of 10mm into the muscle tissue. It is also equipped with a heating and cooling head that allows the option to apply heat or cold to the affected areas.
Active physical therapies, on the hand, puts emphasis on the patient working on or contributing to their own treatment. During a session, patients should actively participate in performing the stretches, exercises, and other treatments.