A neck headache is known medically as a cervicogenic headache. This type of a headache is called a secondary headache because it is caused by a problem outside of your head: essentially, your neck. The good news is that by correcting this issue, your headache can be alleviated. Researchers say that neck headaches make up to 24% of all headache cases seen by a doctor.
Why Does It Happen?
Neck headaches begin in a number of neurovascular or musculoskeletal structures in your upper neck. This involves the upper three vertebrae (the C1, C2, and C3 ), neck muscles, and spinal cord coverings. If a problem is located in this area, it sets off pain signals that travel to the trigeminocervical nucleus in the brainstem. This information is then sent to your brain via your brainstem and interpreted as a headache.
Your neck joints can cause a neck headache when they are too stiff, move too much, or are locked in an abnormal position. Once this occurs, you begin to feel a headache, or, in some cases, facial pain.
How Neck Muscles Play a Part
If your neck muscles or shoulder blades are overworked, spasming, or knotted, they can cause pain that originates from your neck. These muscles become overworked when they have to protect injured neck joints. Some muscles of the neck become weakened from not being used, placing more demand on your other muscles and leading to fatigue-related symptoms. For your neck muscles to work as they are supposed to, they should have normal resting tension.
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Occipital and Cervical Nerves
The nerves located in your upper neck can become pinched or irritated by bony growths due to arthritis, disc bulges, or swelling. This sends pain message along the nerve pathways and leads to a headache. You can imagine it as if your neck is the switch, your nerves are the electrical wires, and your headache occurs when the light comes on.
What Are the Symptoms of a Neck Headache?
This type of a headache often gets confused with migraines because they have very similar symptoms. However, the symptoms of a neck headache are not as severe as a migraine. They can include:
- Tiredness at the top of the neck and base of the skull
- Neck stiffness or mild loss of motion in the neck
- Your headache seems to radiate from the back to the front of your head
- Your headache comes about or is made better by a particular movement of your neck
- Your headache is worse on one side of your head and is consistently worse on the same side; it does not switch sides
- Your headache seems to ease up by applying pressure or massaging your neck or the base of your skull
Improve Your Posture
One thing that can help with a neck headache is to work on improving your posture. The following are some tips that can help you do just that. Before you begin, ask someone to take a picture of you from three different angles: front, back, and side. Your head and neck should be positioned over your body. Your forehead should not enter the room before your chest, nor should your backside stick way out behind you. Take note of whether your hands hang evenly and if your hips are at the same level. There are free apps that can help you determine if your posture is correct, such as Posturezone. Always check with your doctor or chiropractor before beginning any exercise program.
- Alignment: Stand up against the wall with your heels touching it. Take a step forward about the length of your foot. Now, lean back until your buttocks and back touch the wall. Push your head back (do not tilt your chin up) until it touches the wall. If your head cannot touch the wall without tilting your head, just push it back as far as you can and keep it straight. Hold for 20 seconds. This works with your core muscles and trains them to help with your posture
- Alignment in movement: This involves using large inflatable balls that are found in a gym. Sit on one with your knees at a 90-degree angle and use your best, strong posture. Keep your knees, torso, and head still, and use your pelvis to very slowly move the ball in circles. Three circles left, then three circles right. This will help you discover where you have neglected muscle fibers in your core.
- Balance: Stand in a doorway using good posture. Raise one leg, bending your knee so your thigh is parallel with the floor. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Do not twist or flail your arms to keep your balance. Rather, reach out for the wall to steady you. This helps with balance and symmetry of muscle control.
Finding Professional Help for Your Neck Headache
By seeking the care of an upper cervical chiropractor, you may find just the relief you are looking for with regards to your neck headache. As our name implies, we focus on the top bones of the spine. A misalignment here can definitely cause the issues that bring on neck headaches and other headache types.
We use a gentle method that does not require us to pop or crack the spine to get results. Rather, we encourage the bones to move back into place normally, attaining a longer-lasting adjustment. Most of our patients and those in case studies report seeing a significant difference in their headache issues in only one or two adjustments.
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if you are outside of the local area you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com