When a headache is caused by the neck
The majority of the adult population suffer from headaches. Every day General Practitioners (GPs), neurologists, anaesthesiologists, and other specialists are approached by patients with headaches of differing intensities, duration, and location. Very often we associate this condition with being overworked, tired, stressed, and even adverse weather conditions. As a treatment we usually reach for painkillers, either the ones available over the counter without prescription, or those prescribed by our doctor. This usually happens due to incorrect diagnosis. If the condition is chronic, it is really easy to overdose or get addicted to pharmaceuticals. Epidemiological research shows that 15-20% of all chronic and reoccurring headaches are caused by neck problems. A neck headache is caused by dysfunction or tissue inflammation in the upper cervical (neck) section of the spine, as a consequence of physical overloading, or improper body posture.
If after a medical history check and a physical examination the diagnosis is that your headache is caused by muscle-skeletal structures of the cervical section, the role of your physiotherapist is to balance the disproportion between the current muscle-skeletal burden and the capability of your tissue to withstand such a burden.
IS YOUR HEADACHE A NECK HEADACHE?
Below you will find a couple of answers allowing you to make a preliminary hypothesis regarding your neck headache. Certainly the majority of people suffering from a neck headache will answer their doctor or physiotherapist in the following ways;
WHAT CAUSES YOUR HEADACHE?
Long-lasting unfavourable and static positioning of the head (usually in a bent position) Unfavourable head positioning during sleep (inappropriate/lack of pillow) results in morning headaches. Head movements Pressure in the neck area, or on the back of the head
WHERE DOES YOUR HEADACHE START?
It starts around the neck
WHERE DOES IT RADIATE FROM?
It radiates towards the front; back of the head, forehead, sinuses, eyeball, face
WHAT IS THE LOCATION?
Pain is usually one-sided, if it is two-sided, usually one side hurts more
HOW INTENSE IS THE PAIN?
The headache is of medium intensity The pain is of varying intensity during one attack, and differs between attacks
WHAT IS THE DURATION?
Attacks have variable duration The pain is constant, but of varying intensity
WHAT ARE THE ACCOMPANYING SYMPTOMS?
Limited mobility of the cervical curve (neck) Dizziness, nausea, and blurry vision Of course the symptoms listed above are not always obviously connected to neck headaches, as often patients suffer from different types of headaches. In such situations symptoms can be confused, and the type of headache can change. Therefore it is crucial to get the right diagnosis early. Unfortunately it is common practice to apply painkillers first, even before diagnosis is made. If this happens regarding a neck headache, then the best case scenario for the patient is that therapy is ineffective, rather than beneficial. Physiotherapists specialising in Manual Therapy are able to help patients with a neck headache and the therapy effects are visible even after the first visit.