Cervical Headaches

Headaches can literally be a pain in the neck. They are frequently caused by joint or muscular dysfunction in the neck, poor posture, emotional tension or a combination of these.

What you might be feeling

Headaches originating from or relating to neck dysfunction can be very successfully treated and prevented with physiotherapy.

These headaches may present as:

  • Pain & tension in the neck
  • Pain, ache & pressure in the forehead and back of the head
  • Tension in the temple and jaw area
  • Pain that is made worse with sustained and repeated postures
    (especially sitting) and movement of the neck
  • A headache with a feeling of light headedness or dizziness
  • Pain usually on the same side of the head as neck pain

Cervical headaches are usually described as a constant, steady, dull ache. It can be to one side or both sides. It can be to one side or both sides. It can also feel like a pulling or gripping feeling, sometimes a tight band around the head. The headache usually is felt at the base of the skull and can be referred to the front of the head to the temple area or over and behind the eyes. The headaches usually come on over a period of time, gradually getting worse. The headaches may be present for days, weeks even months. Sometimes there may be a history of an acute trauma such as whip-lash injury or repetitive trauma associated with work or a sporting activity.

What’s really going on inside

Cervical headaches or cervicogenic headaches are headaches caused by abnormalities in the cervical (neck and head) region, the cause is variable as described above. The mechanism of production of the headache is also variable. It can be referred from the upper cervical nerve roots, segments of the cervical spine which can irritate some of the sensory nerves. Headaches can be caused by trigger points in the neck muscles and head muscles.

Cervical headaches are those that can be most successfully treated by Physiotherapy.

Cervical headaches are often associated with neck pain and stiffness. They may be aggravated by neck and head movements. There may be a feeling of light headedness, dizziness, ringing in the ear and nausea. An inability to concentrate, impaired normal functioning and depression may also be reported.

How a physio can help

Physiotherapy management requires assessment and treatment of all the abnormalities found in the joints, muscles and neural structures. As well as education on posture and work practices.

Postural Assessment and Advice – Education on optimal trunk posture and postural retraining is vital. Without postural correction cervical headaches can linger for extended periods.

Mobilisation – Stiff joints in the neck should be mobilised to restore range of movement. Stiffness in the jaw joints can also be problematic and should be mobilised if needed.

Stretching – Stretching of the neck and shoulder muscles can help alleviate headaches.

Strengthening – cervical muscle retraining is vital. Your physiotherapist will show you how to retrain your deep neck muscles to restore the normal muscle balance and recruitment

Stress and tension management – Identification and reduction of the sources of stress and tension need to be incorporated as this commonly leads to tightness in the upper back and neck muscles.

Soft tissue work and massage – Your physiotherapist may use different massage and soft tissue techniques to help the muscles in your neck and upper back.

Acupuncture – Acupuncture is the placement of very think needles into specific locations in the body. It is often used to help alleviate headaches.

Workplace and ergonomic assessment – A poor chair, a desk at the wrong height or wrong set-up or badly placed computer may result in poor posture contributing to strain on the neck. Your Physiotherapist can advise on office and workplace set up, bedding and pillows.

Neural stretching – Abnormal neural tension can also contribute to cervical headaches. Your physiotherapist will assess this and provide appropriate stretches as needed

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