Previously we got to know about “Text Neck” how hands-on gadgets cause neck, shoulder and even upper back pain. Today we shall look at cervicogenic headache. You can also call it neck-headache or tension headache(s)…. it is a secondary headache disorder. In other words your headache is as a result of neck muscles and joint problems in your neck. This sets apart migraines and other 229 cluster headache types.

What then causes your Neck Headaches? W

These headaches are as a result of structural problems in the neck and often due to problems with cervical vertebrae (spine bones at the neck). Especially the upper three neck joints and intrinsic neck muscles.
The most common source of your neck headache is due to dysfunction of either upper neck joints, intrinsic neck muscles and nerves. This triggers pain signals that travel to your trigeminal nerve nucleus (a nerve in your head and face) into your brainstem where you interpret pain signals as pain emanating from back of your head and neck with sensations to your face.

In other words you can have neck headache if your neck joints are too stiff, move too much due to weak supporting neck muscles or you have arthritis in your neck joints.
Your neck and shoulder muscles originating from your neck region can be dysfunctional if they are overworking. And they are under tension or go into spasm. Your neck muscles work okay, only if they have normal resting tension, length, power and endurance. In an event they overwork. When you decide protecting injured neck joints, other muscles become weak. Therefore places more demand on your overworked muscles causing fatigue.

Nerves in your upper three neck joints may directly be pinched by extra bony growths in arthritis or as a result of disc bulges or swelling. Thus irritation of your upper neck structures refer pain messages along the nerves and cause your headache.

Some people develop this type of headaches because of how they work. They involves straining of their neck all the time as a result of poor ergonomic postures. These jobs include hair stylists, manual labourers, drivers and not forgetting office employees who use laptops, e-readers and other hands-on gadgets that have a significant effect to their posture in their day to day activities. All straining postures interfere with the muscles, joints and nerves in the neck region becoming the most common cause of this type of headaches. Lest I forget sleeping on the couch or on hard or very soft pillow all night.

What You Will Feel When You Have Neck Headaches

Typically, people who have neck headaches experience a headache accompanied by neck pain and stiffness. In most cases cervicogenic headaches/ neck headaches are usually on one side of the head. Starting from the back of the head and neck radiating in front to the eye on the same side. The following are symptoms characteristic of  neck headaches:

Symptoms Characteristics Of Neck Headache

  • The headache may seem to radiate from the back to the front of your head.
  • Your headache normally appears to be worse on one side of the head. That side is normally constant and does not switch to the other side.
  • Headaches appear to temporarily ease up when you apply pressure or massage your neck or base of your skull.
  • Your headache is provoked or eased by neck movement, sustained posture, sleeping on your stomach or your head turned to one side.
  • A reduced range of motion in the neck.
  • Pain around the eyes.
  • Pain in the neck, shoulder or arm on one side.
  • Stiffness in the neck.
  • Sensitivity to light and voice.
  • Nausea.
  • Blurred vision.

How Physiotherapy will help you?

The good news is that by fixing your neck problem, your neck headache can be alleviated. Researchers feel that a neck headache accounts for between 4% to 22% of all headaches seen clinically. (Racicki et al 2013; Watson 2014). Our Physical Therapists are skilled and experienced in assessment and correction of neck joint dysfunctions that result in neck headache. Our professional diagnosis and treatment is essential for neck headache sufferers.
Therefore quality neck  Physiotherapy can have very quick and effective results for relieving your neck headache. The key to better treatment response is confirming your diagnosis. Skilled physical therapists are experts in diagnosis and treatment of neck headaches. After assessment your Physical Therapist will include all or some of the following techniques:

Techniques Used By Physical Therapist When Treating Neck Headache

  • Loosen or unlock stiff neck joints.
  • Specific deep neck muscle strengthening exercises to stabilize, control and  limit hypermobility in the neck region.
  • Stretching of tight overactive muscles of the neck through soft tissue release and dry needling.
  • Posture correction may be recommended via specific exercises, posture awareness techniques and even taping.
  • Advice on how to prevent neck dysfunction in future through avoiding poor posture at work and even at home.

What if Physiotherapy Does Not Work?

Since there are over 300 sources of headaches, and neck-headache, it is now known to be responsible for about 20% of headaches. Your headache may stem from a problem that neck-headache treatment is not able to help relieve. In other words a skilled Physical Therapist, will refer you accordingly if you have symptoms that could indicate different cause for your headache. and in the process you may be directed towards further investigations and tests that may assist your diagnosis and subsequent treatment by your Doctor.

Written by:
Moses Katasi
Physical Therapist
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

Neck Headaches/ Cervicogenic Headaches

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