According to the World Health Organization, one in 20 adults suffer from headaches each day. The causes of headaches can be vascular (migraines), viral, exercise induced or intracranial. However, often the headache can originate from cervical spine joints or increased muscular tension. Researchers feel that neck headache accounts for between 4% to 22% of all headaches seen clinically (Racicki et al 2013; Watson 2014). If all other causes of the headache have been ruled out, it is advisable to seek assessment and treatment of your neck.
Neck joints can generate pain if they are too stiff or move too much. Muscles of your neck tend to tighten and become overactive to protect these cervical spine joints. Other neck muscles become overworked depending on posture and also on imbalances between muscles that stabilise and move the neck. A dysfunction in these areas can trigger pain signals that travel to your trigeminocervical nucleus (TCN) in your brainstem. This information is then transmitted into your brain and interpreted as a headache (Bogduk 2003).
The following symptoms are normal signs of a headache originating from your neck:
- Headache radiates from front to back of your head
- Neck movement or a sustained posture can aggravate or ease the pain
- The pain is on one side on your head
- Your headache eases with massage of your neck/base of your skull
Physio treatment is aimed at improving cervical spine mobility, decreasing muscle tension, strengthening neck/scapular muscles as required and addressing postural issues contributing to headaches.