Yes, you read that correctly. Your neck may be the cause of your headaches.
Your body is not a collection of different parts. It’s an intricately connected system, meaning that a hidden problem in one area may express itself in another.
Understanding your neck
Your neck is made up of the 7 small vertebrae of your cervical spine. It protects your spinal cord, supports your head and enables its movement, and allows blood to flow to your brain.
The cervical spine or neck is actually one of the most complicated parts of your body with many vital nerves, blood vessels and joints housed in a small column supporting a heavy load – your head.
Your neck does its job quite well if your posture is right and there are no other underlying issues. But it is a delicate structure that can be overworked.
The result? A headache.
Introducing cervicogenic headaches
If the nerves, bones or muscles in your neck are struggling, they can trigger a headache. It’s known as a cervicogenic headache because it’s actually due to referred pain from your cervical spine (your neck).
- Head pain when your neck remains in one position for a while
- Head pain when you move your neck suddenly
- A stiff neck
- A steady, ongoing headache
- Tenderness around your eyes
- Pain on one side of your head or face
- Head pain when you cough or sneeze.
Some people experience symptoms similar to migraines including sensitivity to light and noise, blurry vision or tummy troubles.
How your neck can cause a headache
Your neck may pay you back with a cervicogenic headache if you:
- Have an underlying condition that affects your neck such as osteoarthritis or a prolapsed disc
- Have injured your neck, for example in a car crash (whiplash), a fall, or when playing sports
- Have a compressed or pinched nerve in your neck
- Routinely hold your head forward, extending it beyond its natural position, putting pressure on your neck and the base of your skull
- Sleep with your head in an awkward position.
Check your posture
As you can see, your posture plays a big role in cervicogenic headaches.
Many of us push our chin forward, holding our head out in front. It’s quite common for office workers, drivers, carpenters and hairstylists to end up doing this often during the working day. It’s known as cervical protraction.
This is something you can change, if you pay a bit of attention to it. Regularly pause and pull your head back into its proper alignment above your shoulders.
You may also need to get a new pillow that’s not too high to avoid tilting your head while you sleep.
The Watson Headache® Approach
The Watson Headache® approach focuses on the role of neck disorders in headache and migraine.
It’s a precise, scientifically validated process for examining and managing the movements of the upper neck to see if it’s responsible for your headache. It employs a series of non-manipulative techniques that do not involve cracking your vertebrae.
There are many advantages to this approach as it involves:
- No medication
- No radiation
- No injections
- No ‘cracking’ or manipulation of your neck.
The biggest advantage, though, is that it’s targeting the cause of your headaches rather than simply treating the symptoms. The Watson Headache® approach enables us to tell if your headaches are caused by a mechanical dysfunction in the top three vertebrae of your neck. If so, physiotherapy can help.
How The Brisbane Spine Clinic can help
Our physiotherapists are trained in the Watson Headache® approach.
We use a number of diagnostic techniques to prove the link between your neck and your headaches. By pressing in the right spot, we can gently reproduce your headache symptoms for a few seconds before reversing them ensuring your brief headache recedes.
Once we’ve identified which vertebrae are triggering your headaches, we can develop a personalised treatment program for you.
It involves applying gentle pressure to specific parts of your neck to help your brain adapt.
Though each person is unique, many patients experience significant, lasting relief from cervicogenic headaches after 4-5 treatments to alter the pain pathway.
We’ll also give you some exercises to do at home and advice on how to manage your next headache.
If you’re struggling with headaches and wonder if the real problem is your neck, then please come and see us for an assessment. We’d love to help you.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.