A headache is defined as the symptom of pain felt anywhere in the head or neck area. Twenty to thirty percent of the population will experience a headache and they can affect anyone of any age. Over 300 different types of headaches have been described but there are several types that are more commonly recognised such as a tension headache, migraine and cluster headaches. Research has also shown that the top three segments of the neck can refer pain to the head. Headaches originating in the neck are known as cervicogenic headaches.
These headaches will present as one-sided pain that may spread across the midline and will usually be of mild to moderate intensity. Typically cervicogenic headaches are aggravated by poor posture or neck movement and often present with neck pain and stiffness, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and noise. There is a significant overlap of symptoms between the different types of headaches and as physiotherapists, we have the ability to use specific assessment techniques to determine if the neck is contributing to your headache symptoms.
There are many factors that contribute to pain felt in the head such as:
- Muscular tension
- Poor posture
- Lack of exercise
- Hormonal influences
- Ear, nose or throat problems
- Eye trouble
- Jaw problems
- Injury to the head or neck
- High blood pressure
Management of your headache, if there is a neck component diagnosed, will involve specific localised manual therapy to mobilise and stretch the affected segments. You will also be shown exercises to use to help manage your symptoms. Other techniques used in conjunction with the manual therapy may include dry needling, soft tissue therapy, postural exercises and strengthening exercises.
Self-management may include:
- Neck retraction exercises, thoracic mobilising exercises,
- Ergonomic setup/ posture awareness, exercise regularly, stress management
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