Headaches seem to have become a commonplace condition that people just endure. According to a study by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 21.8% of women and 10% of men reported having a severe headache in the last 3 months. Congruently, the same study indicates that 17.5% of women and 12.6% of men also suffered neck pain. This correlation between neck pain and severe headaches is much more than a coincidence.
In the short-term, chronic headaches can certainly be masked with pain medications, but they only mask the pain instead of treating its root cause. The best long-term solution is physical therapy. A physical therapist can help you determine if the underlying cause of your headaches is related to stress in your neck. Then, they can construct a plan on how to relieve it and prevent it from returning. Often, we don’t think of muscle strain as the cause of our headaches, but more often than not, treating the root cause of neck pain can alleviate headaches simultaneously.
The Link Between Neck Pain and Tension Headaches
The muscles at the base of your neck are referred to anatomically as the suboccipital triangle, and informally as the tension triangle. When these muscles become stressed, it radiates to other muscles on the head, resulting in a cervicogenic headache, commonly known as a tension headache.
With cervicogenic headaches, pain begins because of damage to the bony structures, soft tissues, or nerves of the neck. However, it often spreads to (or is “referred” to) the head. In these situations, patients will complain of pain behind the eyes, ears, forehead, or jaw.
Common stressors to the neck that can trigger these types of headaches include:
- Excessive twisting/bending of the neck
- Sudden movement of the neck
- Trauma (i.e. whiplash) or previous neck trauma left un- or undertreated
- Heavy lifting
- Spinal disc problems
- Prolonged sitting (i.e. working at a computer)
- Prolonged slouching
- Poor desk setup
- Poor sleeping posture/pillow
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Degenerative conditions
- General Tension – clenching of jaw, holding shoulders high
In an effort to protect the area damaged by the stressor(s), neck muscles tighten to splint or immobilize the injured, painful area. The tension caused by this reflexive tightening (called “guarding”) allows the pain to spread.
Cervicogenic headaches are similar to the more commonly known migraine and, as a result, are often misdiagnosed or go untreated. Therefore, early diagnosis by a physical therapist is key to reducing the disability associated with this painful condition.
What Are the Types of Physical Therapy for Neck Pain and Headaches?
When you first meet with your physical therapist, you will receive an in-depth evaluation to assess your pain concerns and physical therapy needs, and then a treatment plan will be made.
Physical therapy is a fluid and flexible treatment program, so we will draw from our many specialties and techniques to develop a successful plan to care for your neck that will help to relieve headaches. Types of treatment used by physical therapists include:
- Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM), such as Graston technique
- Cold laser
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
- Therapeutic ultrasound
- Spinal decompression or traction
- Realignment/mobilization of spine
What Results Can I Expect Through Physical Therapy?
In addition to the life-changing reduction of pain, physical therapy can also result in:
- Alleviated headaches
- Reduced neck pain
- Boosted muscle strength
- Improved posture and endurance
- Increased flexibility
- Improved balance and stability
Clear Choice Physical Therapy
The physical therapy experts at Clear Choice have the depth of experience to identify any connection between your headaches and neck conditions. Chronic pain can manifest into physical and emotional problems. If you are suffering from constant headaches, it’s time to take your life back.
Contact us at Clear Choice Physical Therapy for a professional evaluation and to start on your road to recovery. We specialize in the treatment of chronic pain, auto injuries, gait and balance issues, sports injuries, and post-surgery recovery. Visit our office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida today.