Can headaches be linked to neck pain?
There are many different types of headaches with a variety of causes, however they can be categorised into two main groups – primary and secondary.
- Primary headaches are caused by problems with pain-sensitive structures in the head – they are not related to underlying illnesses.
- Secondary headaches are a symptom of an underlying condition, such as infection, injury or tumour
- Cervicogenic headaches are a type of secondary headache and may manifest as the result of neck pain.
There are a number of pain-sensitive structures in the head and neck which may cause pain in the presence of an underlying issue – these structures include the joints, ligaments, nerve roots, and muscles of the neck. The way these structures cause pain/headaches is summarised below:
Cervicogenic headaches and tension headaches have many similar features, and they are the two most common types of headaches. It can therefore be difficult to differentiate between the two.
A physiotherapist will be able to assess your symptoms by asking a series of questions, and performing a physical assessment to determine the underlying cause.
How can physiotherapy help with headaches?
Physiotherapists can implement a variety of active and passive techniques to address symptoms of cervicogenic headaches and work to treat the cause. This typically involves facilitating movement of the neck, shoulder and jaw joints and muscles.
Manual therapy (mobilisation, massage, stretching) to address soreness around the neck, shoulder and jaw may help to relieve the headache symptoms and contribute to treating the underlying cause.
Guided mobility and strengthening exercises to address deficits in mobility and strength around the neck, shoulder and upper spine will help to improve strength and reduce the likelihood that these symptoms persist.
Stress management strategies may help to relieve factors contributing to cervicogenic headache symptoms. Examples of such management strategies include relaxation and breathing techniques, and lifestyle/stressor management.
Sustained poor postures may contribute to the onset of cervicogenic headaches whilst working, sitting or sleeping. A physiotherapist can assess yoursetup and make recommendations for adjustments that may improve your posture and reduce your likelihood of developing headache symptoms.
Key points of advice to help prevent and manage common underlying causes of cervicogenic headaches include:
- Posture – the best posture is the next posture – to the best of your ability try to change positions regularly and avoid being in one position for a prolonged period of time
- Exercise – your physio can give you some exercises to help improve the mobility and strength of your neck, shoulder and spine
- Relaxation – relaxation techniques can help to prevent or manage the onset of cervicogenic headaches
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