Did you know that there are over 150 types of headaches? Ranging from migraine and cervicogenic to cluster and sinus, many people struggle with intermittent head pain. However, for some, chronic headaches dramatically affect their daily lives.


In these cases, it’s common for people with headaches to turn to physical therapists and other movement professionals. However, if your treatment plan only focuses on the neck and suboccipital muscles, you might not fully resolve your patients’ pain.


In this article, the experts at Gray Institute explore the often-ignored link between tension headaches and the hamstrings.


What Causes Tension Headaches?

Tension headaches (or stress headaches) are one of the most common types of head pain. Common symptoms include aching head pain, pressure or tightness across your forehead, and soreness in your neck and shoulders.

Many factors can contribute to a tension headache, including:

  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep or fatigue
  • Poor posture
  • Depression

These triggers can create abnormal tension throughout the body, especially in the neck and head. This tension then sets off a Chain Reaction, and nerves in your blood vessels, muscles, fascia, and skin interpret it as pain. Your brain perceives this pain somewhere in your head, generating a “headache.”

Unfortunately, many physical therapists focus too much on the cervical muscles and structures. If you’re only treating the neck muscles, using massage, mobilization, and other therapy techniques, you might not ever address the root cause of your patient’s tension headaches. Instead, you need to carefully assess them, looking for abnormal tension and dysfunction that is triggering these life-changing Chain Reactions.

RELATED: 4 Unexpected Sources of Abnormal Tension (and What to Do About It)


Treating a Tension Headache? Don’t Ignore the Hamstrings

Abnormal tension anywhere in the body can be the trigger for a tension headache. In the late 1980s, Dr. Gary Gray wrote “Hamstrings and Headaches,” an article that revealed how the tension in our hamstrings can easily cause a Chain Reaction of tension throughout the body, resulting in a tension headache.

The hamstrings are a powerful group of muscles that find themselves under excessive tension, because they are primarily responsible for holding our bodies up against gravity. They also allow us to walk and engage in most activities of daily living. When finally allowed to rest, the hamstrings often react by guarding themselves, becoming tight, short, and full of abnormal tension.

The hamstrings are part of the Posterior Chain. Within Gray Institute’s 3DMAPS (3D Movement Analysis & Performance System) certification, the Posterior Chain Reaction is highlighted as one of six primary Chain Reaction movements of the body. These six movements allow for mobility and flexibility to be both assessed and enhanced for the entire body. Additionally, you can slightly tweak these six movements so that stability and strength can be assessed and enhanced for the entire body.

This Posterior Chain is a synergistic group of muscles, including the calf, glute, and back muscles, the thoracolumbar fascia, and the posterior shoulder and neck muscles. They are the hamstring’s friends. Therefore, these friends react when the hamstrings sense tension.

The hamstrings cause a Chain Reaction with the Posterior Chain, creating abnormal tension that ultimately causes chronic tension throughout the body, especially the shoulders and neck, causing the nerve reaction and tension headache.

In this corresponding vlog, Gray Institute explores “Hamstrings and Headaches” in more detail, providing some simple, yet powerful movements to utilize in relieving the body of abnormal tension and ultimately reducing the likelihood of headaches caused by tension.

RELATED: How Applied Functional Scienceâ Can Change Your PT Practice


Want to Learn More About the Body’s Chain Reactions? Enroll in 3DMAPS

If you’re surprised to discover that hamstring dysfunction can lead to tension headaches, you’re not alone. The human body’s Chain Reactions can lead to unexpected (and unwanted) issues. At Gray Institute, we’ve been studying our body’s powerful and complicated Chain Reactions for decades—and we’d love to share our insight with you.

Our 3DMAPS certification will show you how to assess your patients using Applied Functional Science and understand our body’s six primary Chain Reaction movements. The course is available online and as a live (or virtual) program. To learn more, contact us today!