Headaches, A Pain In the Neck?

Headaches can be extremely debilitating. They can cause nausea, withdrawal, loss of work, and distress on a family. They are extremely common, affecting around 30-40 million Americans. Despite being so common, the management of chronic headaches is poorly understood at times. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that come through my office who have complaints of chronic headaches, almost always with poor results with their current treatments. I bet you can’t guess what the main treatment for headaches is? Wait, you probably can– its drugs.

One common type of headache is referred to as a cervicogenic headache. Basically what this means is the headache is originating in the cervical spine (the neck). The upper cervical spine is a very important part of our body. There’s a lot going on in there and when something is not right our body lets us know. People will often experience discomfort at the base of their skull and have it wrap around the head, even causing discomfort in the back of the eye. Most often this is on just one side, however can be on both. When the head is held in a poor position (especially in sitting) it can lead to significant strain on the upper cervical spine which radiates pain into the head. Despite being caused by neck dysfunction, the crazy thing about cervicogenic headaches is that they are not always associated with neck pain. This being on factor that leads to properly diagnosing a cervicogenic headache

In my experience, the prognosis for cervicogenic headaches is actually quite good. With the right plan of care, Physical Therapy can typically have a significant impact on headaches. What I typically find in patients with these headaches is some muscular asymmetries in the neck and shoulders as well as soft tissue restrictions in the upper cervical spine. These are simple enough to alleviate with certain exercises and patient education.

So, do you have headaches? Here’s a few possible signs that your headaches may be cervicogenic:

  • Also suffering from neck pain
  • Pain is located at the base of the skull
  • Pain is isolated to one side
  • Neck stiffness
  • Pain increases with coughing or sneezing
  • Headaches or pain increase with prolonged sitting

These are obviously just some examples and are not required to be present for your headaches to be cervicogenic in nature.

If you have frequent headaches do yourself a favor and schedule a free 15 minute consultation with one of our Physical Therapists. Headaches are by no means always caused by neck dysfunction, but if you ask me, it’s a lot more common than most realize. Our skilled Physical Therapists can tell you if they feel Physical Therapy would be a good option for you. A few visits at Physical Therapy may reduce or eliminate your medication use and allow you to resume your normal daily activities. In my opinion we should all be jumping at the chance to reduce our reliance on medications.