Individuals who sustained a motor vehicle accident (MVA) often require rehabilitation services to help them regain their quality of life and their physical performance. Whiplash injuries, blunt chest trauma, neck strains, concussions, back pain, collar bone fracture are a few of the common musculoskeletal injuries after an MVA. However, other intangible issues such as headaches, which is a huge burden to patients’ quality of life, often get less attention than other physical symptoms.
Headaches can make one lose their energy, motivation, and appetite. Although patients experience headache after a MVA at various frequencies, the following rehabilitation principles still apply to most of the patients.
What Exercises Should You Do?
It is usually recommended to begin some cardiovascular exercises to help manage the headache. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, 10-15 minutes of walking on the treadmill or around the neighbourhood would be a good start. A light intensity walk can improve circulation to your brain. However, you should not try to push your limit and should not exercise with symptoms.
Other simple neck range of motion exercises such as looking to the left and right, up and down, neck rotations and lateral flexions can help maintain and improve your neck mobility.
Stretching the muscles (trapezius, levator scapulae) around the neck is also very important for releasing tensions in the neck. In addition, strengthening exercises that involve a ‘squeeze and relax’ component, such as scapular squeeze, shoulder shrugs could help release some muscle tensions which could have triggered the headache.
Your therapists may also prescribe some other vestibular and balance exercises to manage your condition. Eye movement (left and right; circular) exercises, single leg balance would be a good start.
Some other more subtle factors that might contribute to chronic headache are dehydration, lack of a variety of food consumption, micronutrients imbalance, sleep deprivation, stress, caffeine withdrawal, poor postures, and psychological issues such as anxiety and depression. It is imperative to address the underlying causes for the headache to fully resolve.
Keeping a journal that records the areas, patterns, and dates of headaches might be a good idea as well.
Sometimes your headaches might not be gone completely, but our ultimate goal is always to decrease the frequency and severity of the headaches!
Reference: Murphy, C., & Hameed, S. (2020). Chronic Headaches. StatPearls [Internet].
Gary Lai, Registered Kinesiologist