Neck causing your headache
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Is Your Neck Causing Your Headache?

Headache disorders affect more than half of the global population. Headache pain, pressure, and throbbing can be so debilitating that they interfere with work, leisure, and sleep. Someone with severe headaches may find that it hurts just to think.

Effective symptom management and prevention begins with determining the underlying cause of headache pain. Most often, people think recurrent headaches are migraines, but headaches can have different causes. For millions of sufferers, a headache is a (literal) pain in the neck.  Is your neck causing your headache? Muscle tension and posture problems can lead to neck pain that radiates to the head. Treating these issues affecting the neck can help reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.

What Is a Cervicogenic Headache?

A cervicogenic headache is a condition that causes referred pain from the neck to the head. Referred headache pain does not originate in the head—but that is where it is felt. Pain with cervicogenic headaches typically radiates from the top of the head down to the base of the skull, usually on one side or the other.

What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?

If your neck is causing your headaches, there can be several possible causes:

  • Infections
  • Neck fractures
  • Whiplash and other injury to the neck
  • Poor posture, including “tech neck”
  • Osteoarthritis and other degenerative conditions
  • Compressed or pinched nerve in the neck
  • Muscle tension due to stress or injury

Cervicogenic Headache vs. Migraine

Cervicogenic headaches and migraines are often considered to be the same, but there are slight differences between the two conditions. A migraine is considered a primary headache, meaning the head pain is the problem itself. Cervicogenic headaches are considered secondary headaches because they occur as a result of another underlying medical condition.

Also, cervicogenic headaches are rooted in the neck, or cervical spine at the base of the skull, while migraines are rooted in the head. Neck problems can cause cervicogenic headaches, while they are more of a symptom of migraines.

Although they are different disorders, cervicogenic and migraine headaches often mimic the same symptoms. Both can benefit with similar treatment methods including pain medication, modalities including heat or ice, and physical therapy.

Tech Neck and Headaches

Tech neck is a sign of the times and our increased use on technological devices and is a leading reason why your neck is causing your headache. Americans spend an average of nearly eight hours per day with digital media.

All of that time spent hunched over our smartphones, tablets, and laptops takes a toll on the muscles and tissues of our head, neck, shoulders, and back. Tilting one’s head and neck at a 30-degree angle adds 40 pounds of pressure on the structures of the neck and shoulders. Symptoms of tech neck include headaches, neck pain and spasms, and stiffness in the upper body.

Fortunately, relief is available through nonsurgical, noninvasive methods like physical therapy. Reconfiguring your workspace in a way that is conducive to healthy posture is also highly-beneficial for individuals who spend a lot of time working on a computer.

Cervicogenic Headache Treatment With Physical Therapy

Patients with referred neck pain often have good results with physical therapy to relieve symptoms and address mobility issues causing their headaches. Physical therapy treatment techniques to address cervicogenic headache pain include:

  • Ergonomic assessment for both work and leisure activities to lessen neck tension
  • Manual techniques including soft-tissue and cervical joint mobilization to improve cervical motion and reduce muscle tension
  • Strengthening and stability training for the head and neck muscles with an emphasis on improving posture and neck alignment
  • Breathing techniques to increase blood flow to the head, reduce tension in the neck muscles, and alleviate stress

Physical therapists also educate patients on ways to maintain healthy postures at home and at work. Find a physical therapy clinic near you to find out if you’re a good candidate for neck pain and headache treatment with physical therapy.

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