Are Your Headaches Coming From Your Neck?

Do you suffer from headaches?

Headaches can be a very painful and frustrating thing to live with. Whilst there are many different types of headaches which people may suffer from, 1 of the most common forms which we as physiotherapists treat here at Bodyfocus are.. Cervico-genic headaches or neck headaces

In essence…

Cervico-genic headaches originate from any joint, ligament, muscle or disc dysfunction within the neck (cervical spine), particularly in the upper section. 

A dysfunction in any of these areas can trigger pain signals that travel to your trigeminocervical nucleus (TCN) in your brainstem. This information is then transmitted into your brain and interpreted as a headache (Bogduk 2003). 

Research tells us that upto 22% of all headaches stem from the neck.

What are the 3 main causes of Cervico-genic headaches?

  1. Neck joints too stiff – not moving enough
  2. Neck joints too loose – too much movement
  3. Locked up joints or compressed due to poor posture

Your physiotherapist is an expert in the assessment and correction of neck joint dysfunctions that result in neck headache. Their professional diagnosis and treatment is essential for neck headache sufferers.

What are the Symptoms of Neck Headache?

Neck headaches are very often misdiagnosed or confused with other types of headache, including migraine, since the location of the pain is typically felt in the same area as a migraine. 

Only after careful consideration of all of the examination findings as well as the history obtained, can your physiotherapist confirm a neck headache diagnosis

Commonly, neck headache sufferers will usually notice:

  • Tenderness at the top of their neck and base of the skull. 
  • Neck stiffness or a mild loss of movement, although this is sometimes is only subtle and needs to be confirmed during your physiotherapist’s physical examination.

One of the main differences between neck headache and migraine is that physiotherapy treatment of your neck is able to alter or relieve your headache immediately.

Common Characteristics of a Neck Headache?

The following symptoms are characteristics of a neck headache. You may experience any one or several of these symptoms:

  • Your headache may seem to radiate from the back to the front of your head.
  • Your headache is provoked or eased by a neck movement, a sustained posture, stomach sleeping or with your head turned to one side.
  • Your headache normally appears to be worse on one side of your head. The side is normally constant and does not swap sides.
  • Your headache appears to temporarily ease up when you apply pressure or you massage your neck or the base of your skull.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you are more likely than not to be suffering a neck headache. Please inform your physiotherapist and they will assist you.

What if Your Neck Isn’t Sore?

Even if your neck isn’t sore or painful, you can still experience neck headaches. It is important to remember that your neck joints may NOT be sore at REST, but they may be tender to touch or painful on movement. 

Neck joints that are sore at rest will normally be very tender to touch and painful at the extreme of movement. Obviously, this scenario is a more severe neck headache.

If your headache or a migraine has been present for years and your neck has not been examined, then a thorough neck examination is recommended and is appropriate to either confirm and treat your neck headache or exclude a neck disorder as the cause of your headache.

Some of the risk factors for developing neck related headaches are..

  • You work in an office in front of a computer for more than 5 hours per day
  • You have poor sitting posture
  • You don’t exercise
  • You are stressed
  • Your workstation is not ergonomically setup

So, if you suffer from headaches and have any one of these risk factors, then there is a good chance your headaches are stemming from your neck.

To find out if physiotherapy can help with your headaches, get in touch with us and let us know that you need help with your headache and one of our friendly staff will arrange a Free Headache Assessment for you.