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Migraine Treatment Experiences: Physical Therapy

There are lots of Migraineurs who don’t like to take medications for various reasons and some are quite adamant about it. Complementary therapies such as biofeedback, aromatherapy, crystal therapy, acupuncture, and physical therapy (PT) are a few of these methods that can be employed to help treat Migraine disease. Personally I’ve tried some of these methods with limited success.

My first foray into PT and there have been many, was about a year or so after I fell. My primary care physician suggested it to help increase my range of motion in my neck and possibly relieve some of the daily pain I was having. At my first appointment after I completed a mound of paperwork, and my history was taken, the therapist evaluated me. He explained he wanted to see how far I could bend, stretch and rotate my neck. He checked my balance, posture, and gait – all while taking copious notes. As I struggled to move my head and neck, he could see that there were issues, and then it was time to set up a plan of action.

The PT explained which exercises he wanted me to do and how each of them were to become part of my daily routine. He encouraged me to stop if I had additional pain when I was working on these tasks, but he was clear on what type and how many exercise I should do. Before we finished my appointment, he watched me go over my “homework” making sure I didn’t have any questions and then said he would like to see me twice a week for a while.

As I did the range of motion exercises for my neck and upper back/shoulders – there was a lot of crunching and crackling going on. At the start of each exercise, I felt more pain, but it seemed to ease up the more I did them. After a few days I was back at the PT’s office for my scheduled visit. Before I started any exercises, an assistant placed a warm, thermal type of pack on my upper shoulders for about five minutes – which felt fabulous. The PT then came into the room and re-evaluated me. He didn’t see any monumental changes, but that was too be expected after only a few days. We went over the exercises again, and then I was introduced into the main floor area where other PT patients working diligently on their exercises. This was where I would be from now on to do my own thing, under the watchful eyes of the staff.

A few more days went by and I returned to PT. At each visit I completed my prescribed exercises and it wasn’t until after a few weeks that new exercises were given to me. I worked hard on my daily routine and continued to do so for the next six to eight weeks, and then I was re-evaluated. The physical therapist said could see that my range of motion had increased a bit, but we were both disappointed the pain was still there. At this point, the PT felt he had nothing left to offer me, and suggested I look into cranial sacral manipulation. To say the least, I left his office feeling very deflated.

I had hoped beyond hope that PT would be the answer I was looking for to relieve my pain. It didn’t, but I was determined not to give up. So next up – cranial sacral manipulation.

The purpose of the Treatment Series is to share personal experiences with migraine management techniques. Do not start, stop or change any treatment program without the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. For clinical data and safety information, please visit our Migraine Treatment pages.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • StephP
    5 years ago

    Apologies that this is an older thread, but I thought I would share that I have recently had good results with Postural Restoration Therapy, which basically balances postural imbalances in the body. Prior to this type of PT, I was having 4-5 migraines per week and that’s with Botox. Currently, I’ve had 2 migraines in the past 3 months and have stopped getting Botox (for now). It’s worth looking into if posture, tension headaches, or scoliosis are contributing to migraines. All the best to you.

  • Carl
    6 years ago

    I have a similar problem with my neck and upper back. Mine appears to be due to terrible posture (at the computer most of the day) and my sleeping position (on my stomach).

    Two very big no-no’s. I saw a physio – got worse. Saw another one – no lasting change.

    Finally I’ve found through a bit of research and luck that my neck stiffness and issues are dramatically relieved by regular cardio exercise and better sleep posture (now I sleep on my side with some better pillows).

    At the desk I’m still bad – and my posture needs improvement. But my neck is much better than before.

    Hope this helps.

  • Amber Turner
    7 years ago

    I have been using PT for migraines 3 days/week for 6 weeks, and I’ve only had two migraines since I began (used to average one/week)! My treatment has included spinal traction, massage, popping/stretching, and some light exercises. I am concerned that my migraines will become more frequent when I stop treatment, but the therapist thinks if I can strenghthen my neck muscles, then the tension affecting my occipital nerve (one of my triggers) will be decreased. I’m really hoping she’s right!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Amber Turner – I will be keeping fingers and toes crossed for you. Not all PT’s understand that some of us have to take it v-e-r-y slowly, but if you’ve got one that will help you with that, hopefully you’ll see some improvement. Have you ever seen a headache specialist and discussed cervicogenic headache? This might be a conversation you want to have with your doctor and your PT, just to be sure it is ruled out:

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator author
    7 years ago

    Hi Amber,

    Good to hear PT is working for you. We’re all so different when it comes to treating migraine, it’s nice to hear when others have success in their treatments.

    Keep us posted on your progress!

  • Marcia Bachochin
    8 years ago

    Unforunetly PT gave me horrible rebound migraines as soon as 1 hour after the session. Stress and my tighter than most people, neck and shoulder muscles are the reason why.

  • Diana Lee
    8 years ago

    My experience with most physical therapy was that the PTs went at me like they were killing snakes. It was too much!

    I finally found PTs that knew how to help me when I attended the behavioral pain management program. They were specially trained to work with people living with chronic pain and were awesome at teaching us how to pace ourselves and do only what we were capable of at any given time, then very slowly add exercises to increase our stamina and heal ourselves. It was like night and day from my previous experiences.

  • Sarah Scott Blankenship
    8 years ago

    I did PT for migraines. The therapist was very concerned that what he would do might trigger a migraine, and it did once, but that was about the only thing that happened. The PT assistant is also a massage therapist, so on days I saw him, I also got a great neck and shoulder massage out of it. It didn’t help at all, so I eventually quit going. The copays just weren’t worth it.

  • Carrie McMillen
    8 years ago

    I had migraines bad! I was on high doses of Depakote ER. Wanna know how I cured my migraines? So simple too for me. I went on a solid green smoothie diet. I no longer have migraines, and I’m on Day 117 of smoothies!

  • Terri Williams-Yeadon
    8 years ago

    it has made mine worse.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator author
    7 years ago

    Hi Karen and Janene,

    Most of the PT’s I’ve seen for various things including migraine, really do want us to improve. But for those of us who know our bodies, after a few sessions, we’ll know if PT is the right thing for our heads!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator author
    7 years ago

    Hi Terri,

    I’ve also heard that as well. 🙁

  • Janene Zielinski
    8 years ago

    I had a similar experience as Karen.

  • Karen Hamilton
    8 years ago

    Yes, I didn’t have very good luck either. I had such high hopes. There were many head, neck, and back exercises, with differentiating amounts of pain (none to moderate) and then the sessions finished off with either ice or heat. I loved the heat and hated the ice, of course. I did a gentler version of the exercises on my own at home.

    After the second session, I had my migraines with dizziness, throwing up, and extreme pain, and this continued through my 5th session, after which I finally gave up. I wouldn’t say mine were permanently worse, just worse than usual after each session. Probably the up-and-down movements triggered the migraines. The ones after the ice were excruciating. The therapist was so nice, too. He wanted it to work for me.

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