There’s nothing worse than a headache that starts light and ends in pain through the neck and radiating to the shoulders. Given the fast pace of our lives there’s not always time to curl up and sleep in a dark room with a cold compress. The most common human nervous system disorder is the headache, which is an umbrella term used to describe a number of different conditions that cause pain in the head, some of which include tension-type headaches, migraines, cluster and cervicogenic. Physical therapists are well prepared to evaluate and treat the cervicogenic subgroup due to the fact that, as the “cervico” part of its name suggests, arises from the spine. They can develop after trauma such as whiplash or other forms of neck injury resulting in neck pain. They can also develop more gradually over time with an insidious onset. This is especially true later on in life due to general degeneration and the repeated micro-trauma associated with poor habitual or static work postures, sustained neck positions, and poor movement patterns which will have accumulated over time. Sufferers often describe the pain associated with a cervicogenic headache as being deep in origin, which may be accompanied by dizziness, nausea, phonophobia (sensitivity to sound), photophobia (sensitivity to light) and blurred vision. Initially the pain will start in the neck, subsequently fanning out to other areas of the head. The location tends to be limited to one side of the head or has a one sided dominance and, unlike a migraine, the pain in the head will not change sides between attacks. The head and neck pain experienced can radiate from the joints, discs as well as the surrounding neck muscles. All of these structures are innervated by the nerves that come from the upper neck so when they are aggravated they will refer pain upwards to the head. Physical examination normally reveals a reduction in the neck range of motion especially with forwards and backward bending but is also often associated with losses of left and right rotation.
There is significant stiffness between the joints of the upper neck with these joints being painful to palpation. The supporting neck muscles are also found to be weak with tightness exhibited across the back of the shoulders. This can cause the entire neck to experience a lack of proprioception (awareness of a joint position in space). It must be noted that the symptoms associated with cervicogenic headaches are not solely unique to that particular headache subgroup but when these symptoms are present it provides a strong indication that the cervical spine should be considered. Also, two different headache types can occur simultaneously thus physical therapy treatment may only give partial relief. Musculoskeletal impairments have also been found in people with tension headaches and migraines so physical therapy treatment may provide some relief. Physical therapists can help to reduce the suffering by reducing joint dysfunction by mobilizing joints to normalize range of motion, soft tissue release to relax tight muscles and tension on the joints, strengthen the weak supporting musculature in the neck and shoulder girdle, stretch tight muscles, increase joint proprioception, and provide posture re-education.
Please feel free to contact us at www.buffalobackandneckpt.com or by calling 716-836-2225 for consultation if you suffer from headaches to learn how to start your recovery today.