Once upon a time, throbbing headaches were called migraines and anything that wasn’t, was called a tension headache. With research and better knowledge, we now know there are more than 300 types of headache!
Generally, these fall into three categories:
- Tension type headaches
- Neck headaches
What are neck headaches?
Neck headaches (or cervicogenic headaches) are the ones we as physios are most interested in, because they are normally the ones we can help with! They can originate from a number of structures in and around your neck, including your upper neck joints, your jaw (or TMJ), muscles and nerves. They are sometimes mistaken for migraines because they can give pain in a similar area.
Working out the cause of your headache can be very confusing, especially when there is more than one cause!
To help make things clearer, here are 3 signs that your headaches might be coming from your neck:
Three signs it might be a neck headache
1. The pain radiates from back to front and is usually one-sided
- you might just have a sense that your headache is ‘coming from your neck’, you might feel the pain radiating from the back of the head, or you might be able to reproduce your headache when you press on the muscles at the base of your skull.
2. Your neck feels restricted or your pain is altered by neck movements/positions
- you might have noticed a bit of stiffness or loss of movement in your neck (eg it feels harder to do a shoulder check when driving)
- your headache may be brought on by a certain neck movement (eg. looking over your shoulder) or a sustained position (eg. stomach sleeping)
3. Physiotherapy treatment of your neck alters or improves your headaches almost immediately
- the truth is, sometimes we don’t know until we treat it! With physio treatment, neck-related headaches normally respond quickly with an improvement (or sometimes even initial aggravation) of symptoms. If you’ve noticed a bit of massage or pressing on your neck alters your headache symptoms (for better or worse), there’s a good chance they are ‘neck-related’ headaches.
What does physio for neck headaches normally involve?
After a thorough assessment and diagnosis, treatment might include:
- mobilisation of joints in the back and neck
- soft tissue techniques such as massage
- dry needling / acupuncture
- postural education
- specific strengthening exercises
What should you expect?
Relief is often immediate and complete resolution of headaches can occur sometimes within a few weeks, although this will depend on other contributing factors and how well how well they can be modified.
What if it is not a neck headache?
After an assessment, if we don’t believe your headaches are neck-related, we can direct you towards the appropriate investigations or professionals we think might be able to further assist you in diagnosis and management.
GLOW Physio is very experienced in the treatment of headaches and can help you to better understand your condition and manage it more effectively