Headaches are one of the most debilitating types of pain, causing physical and emotional stress as it can be very difficult to concentrate whilst in the grip of one. There are many different factors that can lead to headaches and one of the most common causes are issues related to the neck which can refer pain and tension into the head. These types of headache are termed cervicogenic headaches.
Signs and Symptoms
Some signs that your headache is cervicogenic are:
pain on one side of the head or face
pain that stays in one spot - commonly on the forehead or behind the eye
steady pain that doesn’t throb
stiff or achey neck
There are also some symptoms of cervicogenic headache that are similar to those of a migraine such as nausea or a sensitivity to light, so all symptoms must be noted in order to make a proper diagnosis.
There are many different causes of cervicogenic headaches and sometimes it can be tricky to pinpoint the exact structure responsible for your headache.
Traumatic events such as a bang to the head or whiplash can create neck stiffness and nerve irritation that can lead to persistent headaches.
More commonly, headaches will gradually creep up on us without any specific incident that we can pin it to. These headaches are mostly due to excess strain being put on the muscles, bones and nerves of the neck, which eventually cause a headache. The most common reasons for this happening are poor posture (sitting with your shoulders rounded and head forward), stiffness in the joints of the neck, and stress which causes us to tense the muscles in our neck and jaw.
If your headache has come on very suddenly and is unrelenting, if it is accompanied by a rash or weight loss, or if there are other unexplained symptoms that come on at the same time, then this might indicate another health problem that needs investigated and should be assessed by a doctor.
After fully assessing your head and neck to discover the cause of your headache, I use a combination of mobilisation and soft tissue release to loosen any stiff areas in the neck that might be contributing to your headache. Most of the time there is nerve irritation, which causes sensitivity and tightness in the muscles around the neck and shoulders and this is most likely the main culprit for your headache. For this I use a technique called Gunn IMS, a treatment that uses thin needles to stimulate the nerves and release these tight muscles. Often there is immediate relief from the the headache, and a full recovery is made in a short space of time.
Cervicogenic headaches can almost always be effectively treated with physiotherapy. Painkillers are rarely a long-term solution as there will be always be a cause for your headache that is related to your neck. Finding and treating the cause as well as the symptoms will lead to quick relief from your headache.