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Cervical (Neck) Related Headaches

Published: 01 January 2013 - Clinical Conditions, Pain Management, Wellbeing

Neck related headaches

There are a number of potential causes of head and facial pain – one of the most common (and the main one helped by physiotherapy) is referred pain from the cervical spine (neck).

This region comprises of 7 individual bones at the top of the spine, each with joints above and below (with ligaments attached to them), and a number of muscles that connect these bones with the head, shoulder girdle and mid-back.

Any of these structures can provoke pain, with that pain quite commonly being felt in the head and/or face. 

Causes of neck related headaches

The primary cause for cervical related headaches is poor posture. The rounded shoulders and protruding chin (typically adopted by computer uses) will cause the following issues over time:

  • Stiffening up of the neck joints (in particular the upper 3 joints)
  • Tightening of the neck muscles, particularly those at the very base of the skull, and those that run from the neck to the top corner of the shoulder blade

Symptoms of neck related headaches

The major symptom (pain) will often not occur straight away.

Typically, the joints and/or muscles need to become quite tight before pain is actually felt. This often leads sufferers to believe their pain has occurred for “no apparent reason”.

In reality their poor posture has been quietly tightening them up for some time. Most often pain in the forehead and face is caused by the stiff joints, whilst pain at the back of the head is caused by tight muscles. It is not always that simple though, so you should consult your physiotherapist for a more thorough examination of your symptoms.

Treatment of neck related headaches

Initial manual therapy (hands on) treatment is required to loosen the stiff joints and/or release the tight muscles.

Once pain is under control, it is very important to address the underlying posture and predisposing factors. Postural education and a muscle strengthening program will help to retrain the speci c muscles involved. Clinical Exercise exercises are usually utilised in this process.

Self management

  • Massage ball/Pocket Physio™ for relief of trigger point (muscular) pain
  • Heat pack for easing muscle spasm
  • A posture support brace to help you through periods of prolonged sitting
  • A contoured pillow to ensure good sleeping posture
  • Home exercise program consisting of specific postural exercise suited to the individual
  • Assessment of your workstation to ensure appropriate set up of desk, chair and computer

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