Headaches are a debilitating issue for thousands of people. They can be caused by a multitude of different factors such as stress, fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, lack of sleep, dehydration or diet issues or in rare cases underlying disorders.
The most common physiological cause of a musculoskeletal headache is one that originates from pain in the neck. This is called a cervicogenic headache. This type of headache can vary from an ache above or behind your eyes, a band of pain across the head, facial pain, to migraine-like entire head pain. Stiff and aggravated joints at the top of your neck activate the nerves and pain receptors that exit from these joints and innervate certain parts of the head. These types of headaches can be further aggravated by tight neck muscles, some of which connect your head to your shoulders, upper back or ribs.
The biggest contributing factors for this type of pain is stress, prolonged postures, extended time spent sitting and poor neck/shoulder strength and endurance.
Sitting in “poor” postures or awkward positions can lead these issues arising quickly. One example of a common posture those with cervicogenic headaches present with is the “Chin-poke” posture. When sitting in an unsupported position the upper back will begin to slouch, the neck will then extend (often from the upper and lower cervical joints) and the chin will poke out, keeping this posture for an extended period of time will put pressure on the upper neck joints and also the cervicothoracic junction – where the upper back meets the neck.
But sitting in a “perfect” posture for a prolonged period can still bring on the pain. The body requires movement not to get stiff and sore and that, of course, applies to the neck and head, especially if you are prone to headaches.
The pain often originates from the upper cervical joints, so while stretching the surrounding muscles is an important tool to help manage this pain, it is not the only thing that should be done to counter headaches.
The joints respond positively to movement, and even more positively to exercise!
Recent evidence shows if daily bouts of specific high-intensity resistance training of the shoulder and neck region for 10 minutes were performed at the workplace, neck and shoulder pain would be reduced.
For any headache, the first and most crucial step is to get your symptoms checked by a health professional to identify the cause. If it is classified as a cervicogenic headache, then our experienced physiotherapists have many ways in which we can assist you to manage your symptoms and treat the cause.
Soft tissue release and joint mobilisation of the neck, upper back and shoulders
Ergonomic advice and Workstation Assessments
Activity management strategies and planning
Addressing stress factors and other triggers for your pain
Stretches and range of motion exercises of the surrounding muscles and joints
Exercises to increase strength and endurance of the neck and shoulders, to increase the load tolerance of the upper cervical joints and to reduce neck and shoulder pain