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Neck pain and headaches - are they related?

Author Details

Meg Smith blog author

Meg Smith

MSc, FCAMPT, CSCS, CAFCI

Physiotherapist

Friday, Apr. 8, 2022
 
an elderly man experiencing neck pain

Note: If you have any questions or are unsure about the exercise below, please check with your clinician or health professional.

Have you ever experienced headache pain that radiates from the base of your skull, through the temple, and sometimes even behind the eye?  This is a typical pattern of pain that occurs with a condition called cervicogenic headache. This type of headache arises when the nerve tissue in the upper neck becomes irritated. This irritation is often the result of abnormal pressure or tightness in the area of the upper neck muscles, joints and ligaments. 

Many of us work in a sustained sitting position –perhaps at a desk, computer or even driving. Poor posture that allows the head to sit forward while doing these tasks can contribute to tension in these areas. Another common cause of cervicogenic headache occurs when there has been an injury to this area, such as a whiplash or a blow to the head. 

Fortunately, all of the above cases can be helped by exercise.  A qualified physiotherapist will evaluate the areas of the neck that are inflexible and can assist by performing hands-on treatment which can involve mobilizing and stretching the joints and muscles of the neck.

Your physiotherapist will also teach you how to perform safe and appropriate mobility exercises at home. In conjunction with this, those suffering from cervicogenic headache typically lack strength in the muscles at the front of their neck.  These muscles counter a forward head posture and help maintain a more neutral head and neck position.

A rolled towel may help

While lying on your back, place a rolled towel under your neck. Now, tuck your chin. Keeping your neck in contact with the towel, lift your head only, and don’t let your chin poke forward – in other words maintain your tucked chin position. Now see how long you can comfortably hold this position. 

a man lying down with a rolled up towel underneath his head

Most people will find this task difficult to do.  If this applies to you, and you are a headache sufferer, consider making an appointment with a registered physiotherapist. A complete assessment of your neck, and a combination of hands on treatment in conjunction with exercises for mobility and strength will help you to find relief from your headaches.    

For more information or if you’d like to schedule an appointment with a physiotherapist, check out our locations page to find a clinic near you or book online. 

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