Neck Pain and Headaches

Neck Pain and Headaches

Headaches are defined as pain in the head, in or around the eyes or ears and behind the back of the head. There are many different types of headaches, and many different causes. Another common type of headache seen in the clinic is a tension headache.

Headaches can be also caused not only by dysfunction in the neck region but also by physical and emotional stress and tension. The physical aspect of the headache can be successfully treated by your PT and preventative advice can be given.

What are the causes of headaches?

There are two types of headaches: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are not associated with (caused by) other diseases. Examples of primary headaches are migraine headaches, tension headaches, and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by associated disease. The associated disease may be minor or serious and life threatening.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache that people experience. This is often related to pain and tension in the neck region. A disorder of the neck joints or the muscles that connect to the base of your scull may refer pain into your head; this is because the nerves that are in your neck are also connected to your head and face.

Your neck may be causing your headache if:

  • Headache is eased by pressure at the base of your skull
  • Your neck pain radiates from the back to the front of your head
  • Your doctor has cleared you of any other factors that may be contributing to your headache
  • Headache is worsened by neck movement or by holding your neck in the one position for example staring at the computer screen throughout the day with your chin poke forward
  • This type of headache may not always be relieved by medication

What are the symptoms of tension headaches?
Tension headaches often begin in the back of the head and upper neck as a band-like tightness or pressure. Tension headaches also are described as a band of pressure encircling the head with the most intense pain over the eyebrows. The pain of tension headaches usually is mild (not disabling) and bilateral (affecting both sides of the head). Tension headaches are not associated with an aura (see below) and are seldom associated with nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound. Tension headaches usually occur sporadically (infrequently and without a pattern) but can occur frequently and even daily in some people. Most people are able to function despite their tension headaches.

Your physical therapist will be able to accurately assess and diagnose whether your neck is causing your headache.

Some of the PT treatment techniques that may be used are:

  • Ultrasound
  • Strengthening for weak muscles
  • Soft tissue release of tight muscles
  • Mobilization of stiff joints
  • Stretching exercises
  • Heat treatment
  • Cold Laser

Your therapist will also provide postural and ergonomic advice if this is outlined to be a contributing factor. Discussion of correct pillow and workstation setup may also be provided as well as other preventative measure.

Headaches do not have to be something that you live with on a day to day basis, so consult your PT to discuss how you can prevent these from occurring.