Neck headaches are referred to medically as cervicogenic headaches. This type of headache is a secondary headache caused by a problem in the neck. It’s estimated that as many as 20% of headaches are neck headaches.
Causes of Neck Headache
There are a number of structures in your neck, including joints, muscles, and nerves, any of which can have problems that contribute to neck headache. Some of the most common neck headache causes include stiff joints or muscles, or weak muscles that provide inadequate support to the joints. In some cases, neck headaches can be caused by nerves that have become trapped. Whatever the cause, pain signals are sent to the brainstem and are then experienced as a headache, which may not always include neck pain.
In some cases, your pillow may be contributing to your neck headaches. If your pillow is too soft or too flat, it may be forcing your neck into an unnatural position, causing some of your muscles to contract, while others are overstretched. If your headaches are worse first thing in the morning and get better over the next few hours, your pillow or sleeping position may be to blame.
Symptoms of Neck Headache
Because they don’t always include neck pain and can sometimes mimic other types of headache, neck headaches are often misdiagnosed. X-rays and scans cannot definitively diagnose neck headaches, but can sometimes offer insight into problems with structures in the neck that may be giving rise to the headache. Some symptoms that suggest your headaches might be neck headaches include:
- Pain or tenderness at the top of the neck around the base of the skull
- Stiffness in the neck, though this may be mild and go unnoticed until a thorough exam is performed
- Headache that spreads forward from the back of the head
- Headache that is either aggravated or eased by movement
- Headache that consistently occurs on one side of the head
- Headache that is eased by pressure or massage
Neck headaches typically respond quickly and favorable to chiropractic care, unlike some other types of headaches. If you suspect your headaches might stem from a problem in your neck, a visit to your chiropractor may be in order. Your chiropractor will ask you a few questions regarding your symptoms, what makes your headaches worse, what makes them better, and how various movements affect your pain levels. The chiropractor will also thoroughly examine your neck, including assessing your mobility to determine whether you are too stiff or excessively mobile.
Treating Neck Headaches
Specific treatment for neck headaches depends on the specific problems in the neck that are causing the pain. Some treatment options include:
- Loosening up stiff joints with gentle adjustment
- Gentle adjustment to free trapped or impinged nerves
- Loosening up tight muscles with massage, stretching exercises, or relaxation techniques
- Strengthening exercises for weakened muscles in the neck and shoulders
- Correction of posture with awareness techniques, exercise or, in more severe cases, taping or a supportive brace
- Recommendations for ongoing exercise or relaxation techniques to prevent the problem from recurring
In most cases, treatment for neck headaches offers immediate relief, though complete relief may take a few days to a few weeks in severe cases.
To find out whether your headaches might be caused by a problem in your neck, and to find out how chiropractic can help, contact Chatfield Chiropractic in Roxburgh Park on (03) 9303 9952 or in Sunbury on (03) 9746 3977.