According to various studies, tension headaches are the most common type of headache, affecting 30-70% of the population. Symptoms often include pressure & tightness in the head, forehead, or neck.
Tension headaches can be difficult for manual therapists to diagnose. The cause may be tricky to pinpoint, and a reported high frequency of headaches may result in a migraine diagnosis. Tension headaches differ from migraines in that no dizziness, nauseous, or sensitivity to light symptoms are present. It is vital to differentiate between the two to provide proper treatment for your client.
But what assessment tools can you use to diagnose tension headaches accurately?
Various assessment techniques may be used to determine if your client's condition is a tension headache. Make sure to get a thorough history as this helps rule out other conditions and is critical in diagnosing tension headaches.
Evaluating for tenderness on the back of the scalp, neck, or shoulders.
Many of these muscles, such as the trapezius muscles and sternocleidomastoid muscles, insert at the skull. Although it is still inconclusive as to whether tight muscles can directly cause tension headaches, they can often aggravate them. If these muscles have obvious tender points, addressing tightness in these areas may help ease the problem.
Check with your client to determine if they have had any recent muscle strains or injury in the shoulder, neck, or head areas. If they have, a persistent or poorly healed injury may be the main issue
Good posture is considered the alignment and position in which the body is under the least amount of stress. Poor posture can cause muscle strains and tenderness, amongst other issues such as tension headaches.
Possible recent traumatic experience
Many studies note a link between stress and muscle tightness causing tension headaches. Always make sure to ask about your client’s history (When did the headaches start? Were there notable events that triggered them?). Helping your client find healthy stress coping methods may reduce tightness in the neck, head, and shoulder muscles and thus, reduce tension headaches.
Make sure to rule out other conditions, first. Determine a course of treatment once you have sufficiently determined the diagnosis of a tension headache. Common techniques involved in tension headache treatment include trigger point therapy.
Trigger point therapy is proven to help ease tender points in the muscles. Common trigger points for tension headaches include the suboccipital, the sternocleidomastoid, the upper trapezius, and sometimes, the rhomboid muscles.
Be aware of what to look for and eliminant when diagnosing tension headaches. They are common and it is likely you will encounter them at some point or another! Help your client get back on track with knowledge regarding proper assessment techniques and treatment! For more on trigger point therapy, check out iBody Academy’s online manual therapy courses. Learn how and when to use trigger point techniques, and learn to apply your newfound knowledge to conditions, such as tension headaches.