What are headaches? And can neuromuscular therapy help?
Different types, different causes.
Headaches are well researched and defined, and we all know one when we feel it: it’s a pain in the head. But not all headaches are created equal.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, with pain occurring on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
Cluster headaches are less common, and are generally experienced as severe pain around one eye. “Cluster periods,” during which many headaches occur during a period of time, are interspersed with longer periods without any symptoms.
Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection or conjunctivitis (pink-eye), or more serious, like traumatic brain injury or meningitis. While the pain from secondary headaches can be managed, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.
Headaches and Neuromuscular Therapy
Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to NMT treatment including manual trigger point therapy and muscle energy techniques.
Treatment has been seen to reduce pain in the moment, and regular therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis.
Headaches can be associated with high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that treatment can help with these issues not just in the general population, but also specifically in people who live with chronic headaches.
Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit. People with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with NMT. While treatment during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief both for headache as well as for pain throughout the body.
Chronic headache treatment often requires a holistic approach starting with primary care. Physical therapy, nutrition, dehydration, medications, sleep, and postural/work habits might all be considered. Neuromuscular therapy is a helpful treatment within a holistic approach.
Are you interested in NMT for headache? Get in touch below.
Often the focus of massage therapy is to loosen tight muscles.
But did you know that muscles can be "tight" in multiple ways? A muscle can be short, tight, and overactive. It can be short, tight, and inhibited (underactive). And the most difficult tension type, in my opinion, is more accurately called taut muscle: overlengthened, overused, often compensating for the short/tight muscle that opposes it, and quite often weaker than this antagonist muscle.
Neuromuscular Therapy is highly focused on muscle balance, and my Pilates background is of course focused on strength and stability. Assessments consider static posture, movement patterns, and specific pain problems, with a look at lifestyle factors and current fitness routines.
I choose from the most efficient techniques to loosen what is tight, and activate what may be weak and/or inhibited.
I often use active assisted stretch techniques with trigger point therapy and strain/counterstrain techniques, followed by muscle activation to help create a new pattern in the neuromuscular system. Strength and stability training must be considered in many cases.
It can be helpful to consider existing fitness routines, and create goals and plans to tweak a good routine or get started on a new one. The corrective exercise model helps reinforce the movement habits that are working for you, and provides a map for changing problematic movement patterns and/or strength imbalances.
Combined with soft-tissue manual therapy, stretch, and isolated muscle activation techniques, moving in new ways reinforces better movement. The goal is less pain, and better strength, balance and mobility.
Please reach out below to learn more.
I'm enjoying the National Academy of Sports Medicine's certification program in Corrective Exercise. I've been certified in Pilates for years and taught some various fitness modalities, but I love the NASM's science-based approach. Everything they teach, from assessment protocols to exercise technique, is backed up by research studies in areas like physical therapy and athletic performance.
There are four steps in the NASM's "Corrective Exercise Continuum" model. You can use them in the gym, ideally supervised by a trainer who has assessed your posture and mobility. Because the goal is to correct imbalances in order to move better, protect joints, and prevent pain. Starting with assessment is key.
This model also integrates into neuromuscular therapy treatment in my practice.
1. Inhibit - The focus is on self myofascial release (SMF) with foam rollers, tennis balls, etc. In the treatment room: manual trigger point therapy, muscular therapy.
2. Lengthen - Specific, isolated stretching. May be static, or neuromuscular (muscle energy techniques such as contract/relax and reciprocal inhibition). In the treatment room: assisted stretching, both passive and MET.
3. Activate - Isolated movement for specific areas of weakness. Resistance is bodyweight, bands or light weights. Reps are high, usually two sets. Tempo is slow and controlled, with focus on the eccentric phase of each rep. Lots of fun science behind the benefits of eccentric exercise. In the treatment room I use specific neuromuscular therapy techniques to engage muscles while normalizing muscle tone.
4. Integrate - Compound movements starting with bodyweight, and progressing to weights or other resistance, sometimes with a balance or plyometric element. In my practice I usually give clients one simple postural exercise to add to their current routine. As time progresses I'll be designing mobility workouts for my clients to follow outside the treatment room.
Reach out with any questions, if you want to learn more.
Why keeping your feet only shoulder width apart isn't going to help you.
This article from Rehab Spinal Stenosis poses an excellent question: why have many of us come to believe that a shoulder-width stance is the ideal stance for almost every activity?
The takeaway is that a wider, "athletic stance" position, is more natural, supportive, and safer for a healthy spine.
Read the full article and try a simple movement experiment at rehabspinalstenosis.com
Nicole Urell is a certified Neuromuscular Therapist in Belmont, MA.