What are the benefits of physical therapy for neck pain and migraine? -- Psychology Today
PT treating Neck of the Patient
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I went to Jenni’s office each week for a long time as my headache specialist strongly recommended her around 15 years ago to assist me with the issues that I’ve had due to my migraines that are chronic. The neck pain I suffer from is intense and is almost every day, but obviously it isn’t constant in its intensity.

The exact location is always the same however, a muscle that is deep located on the right side of my neck, along the occipital nerve. In reality, I spend the majority of my time pressing my middle finger or thumb into the very specific location, which is something that my physical therapist Jenni Tuller, who is the proprietor of Physical Therapy Services of Rochester in Rochester, NY, regularly criticizes me for, and tries to convince me that doing this can make my condition worse. I’ve had a difficult time for her!

I keep pressing this spot, and I cease breathing as she’s working on me and I frequently push on her to stop what she’s trying achieve. I’m a patient with high maintenance.

I’m not sure what I’d do without her. She’s been a steady and unwavering supporter. She is highly qualified to comprehend migraine’s triggers and the impact it has on the jaw and neck as well as the necessary exercises to help patients cope with the constant strain placed on necks from computers and mobile phones as well as video games and bad posture.

Physical therapy can help with neck pain due to migraines:

Physical therapists who treat migraine sufferers understand that neck discomfort and headaches can be debilitating, impacting their ability to complete routine activities and diminishing their overall quality of living. Medical professionals aren’t sure whether the severe neck pain is a result of the migraine or is a warning sign that one is about to be expected in the future.

There are numerous pain-sensitive structures throughout the neck (upper cervical) and the occipital (back of the skull) areas. The skull-occipital junction and cervical vertebrae contains areas that produce pain such as the cervical lining spine and ligaments, joints as well as cervical nerve roots and vertebral arterial arteries running across the bodies of the cervical vertebrae ( American Migraine Foundation).

A review of research from 2020 highlights two major techniques to physical therapy which can help with migraine relief:

  • Treatment of injuries to muscles and tendons, nerves cartilage, joints and spinal discs
  • In the treatment of balance problems (Carvalho, GF et al. ).

Each patient is distinct and requires a bespoke strategy for treatment. But, certain common treatments could involve manual therapy for example, manipulation of soft tissue to loose muscles as well as joint mobilizations for stiff joints. Your therapist will also instruct you on the exercises that will aid you and which exercises should be avoided or modified.

A therapist can also teach you exercises specifically designed to treat the symptoms linked to the condition.

They could be:

  • The strengthening of your neck muscles and flexors around your shoulder blades can help ease neck tension
  • Extend the upper trapezius the scalene, levator scapulae, levator and pectoral muscles

Based on a study conducted done by Jull and Richardson in which 75 percent of participants experienced a decrease of 50 % or more in the frequency of their headaches after a 12-month follow-up while 42 percent reported having experienced 80 percent or more relief of some kind. These manipulative movements activate neural inhibitory systems at various levels within the spinal cord and activate the descending inhibitory pathways. But, physical therapy can start to aggravate the pain. Thus, therapy is recommended to gradually increase the intensity by incorporating gentle stretching and manual cervical tension (Al Khalili, Y).


In the end, Jenni has taught me over a long period of trying, that a large part of the treatment is with me. We must work as an integral part of the migraine therapy. I have to do my part. Your physical therapy therapist will give you customized exercises that are based on your particular limitations and abilities; however, it’s your responsibility to complete these at home in order to manage your pain.

Jenni Tuller declares:

“Working with patients suffering from chronic migraine is extremely challenging due to the numerous obstacles they face. Alongside diagnosing migraine triggers and the subsequent muscle and skeletal issues Patients have typically been greeted with disbelief by doctors, other medical professionals and family members, friends, and even employers. They require the most emotional support and guidance.

The process of breaking through these layers to increase joint stiffness, muscle spasms and nerve irritation is a process which insurance companies can’t always have the funds to. If you’re patient and proper technique, PT can be extremely useful in controlling the migraine triggers that originate from neck pain” (Tuller).

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We can do what we can to be more self-sufficient?

One workout that works for many people is Chin tucks! This is a fantastic instrument to ease neck discomfort and headaches since it helps to create an equilibrating neck posture which eases strain and stiffness. It is crucial to first master how to perform these exercises correctly from your physical therapy.

Find an PT who is specialized in neck and migraine problems. I’ve been blessed and would like you to be too. You might have to try at least two or three times to find someone who is specialized in this field and stays up to date with treatment for migraines. It’s worth it!