Chronic Headache Relief: 3 Things to Try (Ask the PT)

Chronic Headache Relief

I’m so excited to kick off my new “Ask the PT” segment, where I provide direct answers to the most common questions I get from my clients, friends and family. I’ll debunk common myths, give you research-backed information to help you, and offer advice to ensure you move your body in ways that are healthy for you—for years to come. Today’s topic: chronic headache relief.

Nobody feels their best when they have a headache—and if you’re a chronic sufferer of migraines, my heart goes out to you. That’s why today, I’m breaking down the main types of headaches and offering my top 3 recommendations to find relief. Just because headaches are common, that doesn’t mean they’re normal. By getting to the root cause, you can manage your headaches to feel better. Let’s start with the various types of headaches and what triggers them.

Types of Headaches  

Tension headaches are caused by tight muscles in the head and neck. When these muscles get tight and tense, they refer pain up into the head. You may feel discomfort at the base of the head, or around the temples, eyes and forehead.

Cervicogenic headaches are simply headaches that come from your neck. They’re commonly a result of either too much or too little motion in the joints that connect the neck vertebrae to each other though discs, muscles, or ligaments. You may feel these headaches coming up the back or side of the head and into the temples, forehead, eyes, or ears. 

Migraines are a more complex type of headache. They’re typically associated with pain in the head, but also have effects like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and vision changes. There are many different causes and triggers of migraines, which makes the treatment very individualized.

Food-triggered headaches occur if you have specific food sensitivities. For example, eating too much sugar can be a trigger. Typically, nothing is actually wrong in your head or neck. Rather, increased inflammation from eating sugar or foods you are sensitive to manifests as pain in your head. 

The best way to identify what type of headache you have is to talk with your doctor and physical therapist. When we both work together, we can identify and treat the cause of your headaches—whether it be from your neck, elsewhere in the body, or from the foods you are eating. PTs focus on the muscles, joints, ligaments, and how your body moves, while physicians specialize in the rest of your body systems that could be a contributing factor. Want to get started with something right now to help your headaches? Here are 3 quick and easy things you can implement today.

3 Things to Try for Chronic Headache Relief

Suboccipital release targets the muscles that attach at the base of your head and upper part of your neck. These muscles are common culprits for tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches and when you release them, you can help reduce your pain.

How to perform:

  • Take two tennis balls and place them in a tube sock or pillow case. Tie a knot to keep them in place.
  • Lay on your back and place the tennis balls at the bottom of your head. This should be right at your hairline where the head meets the neck.
  • Lay here for 3-5 minutes while practicing slow belly breathing.
  • Check out how to perform this here:

Neck stretching can reduce pain from tension and cervicogenic headaches. Getting good movement through the joints of your neck can reduce pain from tension and cervicogenic headaches. By incorporating joint movement and simple stretches, you can really start to notice a difference!

How to perform:

  • Lay on your back or sit up straight with good posture. It’s helpful to have back support if you’re sitting. 
  • Slowly rotate your head to the right and look over your shoulder. Once you have moved as far as you can on your own, place your left fingers on your left cheekbone and apply light pressure to deepen the stretch. This should be pain-free and feel good. 
  • Repeat 10-15 times, then perform the same technique rotating to the left. 

Cut the sugar. I know this is a hard one, especially coming from a fellow chocolate lover however, eating sugar can cause inflammation in your body and exacerbate headaches. Pay attention the next time you eat sugar. Does your headache get worse within a few hours? If the answer is yes, choose less-sugary food options or eat less of the sugary snacks.

Instead of grabbing a candy bar, lemonade, or sweet tea in the afternoon, opt for a healthy protein like eggs or nuts and wash it down with a glass of water. Then, be aware of how your head feels within a few hours after eating. You might just notice a difference! Recognizing the connection between what you eat and how you feel can be very powerful.

I hope you’re able to find some relief for your headaches by trying out these 3 options! Let me know how it goes and if you have more questions, let’s chat! You can contact me here, or email me directly at

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Dr. Stephanie Duffey

We Help Motivated Women Feel Physically Amazing So They Can Be Active, Empowered, And Energized Without Frustrating Pain Or Injury.