Stress, Headaches, and Wildfires: Central Oregon’s New Challenge

Sep 15 | , , , , ,

We’ve been dealing with a new reality thanks to COVID-19. Dental offices are seeing an unprecedented amount of broken, chipped, and cracked teeth. The reason for the uptick: stress. 

Stress can impact the body in various ways, including feelings of fatigue, nausea, and sleep disturbances, among others. In our clinics, we are seeing more patients who are experiencing severe headaches and muscle pain. Add the current air quality from wildfires into the mix, and you have a perfect storm. 

Physical therapy can be extremely effective in addressing headaches. Specifically, it can be beneficial for people who suffer headaches with musculoskeletal problems involving the neck and jaw. This is because of a phenomenon known as referred pain. When someone is experiencing a heart attack, their left arm is affected. A similar phenomenon often happens when experiencing a headache. The upper trapezius muscle on the top of the shoulder gets tight and overused during computer work and other activities. This tightness refers pain into the neck and temple. Voila, you’ve now got a headache. 

Another common cause for headaches – which happens to be why dentists are super busy – is teeth clenching and grinding. Also known as bruxism, symptoms include tooth sensitivity, headaches or facial pain in the jaw and ears, chipped teeth, or the abnormal wearing down of teeth.

There are three treatments used in physical therapy for addressing headaches; these include manual therapy, exercise, and education. Manual therapy helps alleviate joint and muscle stiffness, decrease muscle tension and spasm and increase head and neck mobility. Research has shown that specific exercises can reduce pain and inflammation while promoting overall healing. Education benefits patients by helping them identify headache triggers. By knowing what is setting off your headaches, you can begin implementing strategies to stop the cycle. 

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapy can help decrease headache intensity, frequency, and the duration of headaches, while also improving function and mobility. 

If you are experiencing frequent or chronic headaches, call to schedule an appointment with our physical therapists. Alternately, check in with your primary care physician and dentist to ensure stress isn’t causing more significant problems. 

And as a side note, the cloth masks most of us are wearing to protect against the spread of COVID-19 do not stop the smoke from entering our bodies. An N95 mask without an exhaust valve is one of the best ways to protect against smoke and COVID-19. Another option, although only about ⅓ as effective as an N95, is a surgical mask. Stay safe, Central Oregon!