Persistent or recurring headaches may be neck related, and you may not even have pain! This cause of a headache has been commonly overlooked which has often resulted in patients suffering for many years.
Physiotherapists assess and treat neck pain and neck related headache.
Headaches caused by the structures of the neck are often one-sided, with pain usually arising at the base of the skull and referring to the temple, forehead or eye region. However, pain can be present in the eye/head region alone. Pain may be aggravated by neck movement or sustained postures and is often eased by manual pressure to the base of the skull. You might wake with pain, or it might come on as the as the day progresses.
How your neck can cause pain in your head:
It has been well demonstrated that structures in the neck can refer pain to the head. The nerves in the top of the neck (C1-C3) also provide sensation to the face and head. If these nerves are aggravated by stiff joints and muscles in the neck, they can cause pain in the head. This is called referred pain.
The Role of Physiotherapy:
Your therapist will thoroughly assess your neck and headaches. They will ask specific questions to rule out other causes of headaches. They will then feel and assess the structures of your neck to decide if they may be causing your headache. If the neck structures are involved, we will find
- Tight and painful structures in your neck (joint and muscle)
- Pressure on specific structures of your neck will reproduce your head pain.
- Postural changes such as a forward head posture and stiff mid back.
- Reduced motion in the upper joints of the neck.
- Reduced endurance in the deep muscles of the neck.
After correctly diagnosing the neck as the cause of headache, treatment can be quite straightforward for an experienced physiotherapist. Physiotherapists use a combination of treatment techniques such as gentle manipulation of the neck joints, massage, and acupuncture to reduce muscle tension & spasm. They also may give specific exercises for areas concerned in order to restore strength and function.