Headaches and Physiotherapy Treatment

The first three nerves of the neck supply the three upper joints of the neck and their supporting ligaments as well as the muscles.  They supply the sensation of pain to the head and face during a headache if there is some dysfunction in any of these top three joints.  This is called referred pain.  The joints may have been damaged during trauma such as a “whiplash” injury or just stiffness due to degeneration with arthritis or poor posture.

Long term stress or bad posture can cause a tightening of the muscles around the neck which can go into spasm and the overactivity in these muscles can cause a headache.  The tight muscles can also cause a pulling on the vertebra which can cause changes in movement patterns or even rotation of the vertebra.  This may affect the nerve and cause an irritation and referral into the head or face.

The headache may be felt at the base of the neck, in the temples or above or behind the eyes.  It may be only on one side.  The distribution of the pain will help to determine which of the upper three vertebral levels is most affected.  The headache may be made worse by sustained bad posture or holding the neck bent forwards for extended periods such as with reading, writing or sitting on a computer.

Sleeping may also make headaches worse if you do not have the correct pillow or you sleep on your stomach.

Physiotherapy treatment for headaches will consist of mobilising or manipulating the affected joints, massage and soft tissue releases, correcting posture at the computer and during sleep as well as a strengthening program to assist with the overall neck posture and strengthen the deep stabilising muscles of the neck called the deep neck flexors.

By Melanie Roberts

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