Head Conditions

Neck Tension and Cervicogenic Headaches

We all get headaches from time to time, but figuring out why we’re suffering or how to get rid of them isn’t always easy. Millions of people take daily or near-daily doses of pain relief medications to combat headaches, often providing only temporary relief and causing a variety of unpleasant side effects.

What kinds of headaches are there?

More than 90 percent of headaches can be classified as tension-type, migraine or cervicogenic. Byfar, most people get tension-type headaches and get them frequently. They typically suffer mild to moderate pain, on both sides of the head, that is often described as tight, stiff, constricting – like having something wrapped around your head and pressing tightly.

Migraines are periodic, severe, throbbing headaches that usually hurt on one side of the head butcan be on both sides. It is common to be able to predict the occurrences before they begin. They are usually characterized by an aura, with or without associated visual and stomach disturbances. Although any age may be affected, there is an increased incidence among females aged 10 to 30 years. Migraines may be caused by stress, excessive sleep, menstruation, pregnancy, use of oral contraceptives, and consumptions of red wines, chocolates, nuts or aged cheeses. Other factors may include hunger, fatigue, sleep disturbance, bright lights, and alcohol consumption.

Symptoms include moderate to severe pulsating pain; nausea, vomiting; sensitivity to light;episode worsens with physical activity; sweating or chills.

Cervicogenic headache is a muskuloskeletal form of tension-type headache (which may also berelated to migraines). Many times cervicogenic headache goes undiagnosed as such due to the relative newness of this classification. Cervicogenic headache is defined as pain perceived as arising in the head, but whose actual source lies in the cervical spine (neck). The most important cause of this headache is mechanical dysfunction or chronic joint hypomobility (fixation) of the upper neck/cervical spine region. Evidence points to a variety of possible causes of headache pain, including stress, muscle tension, nutritional deficiencies, and hormonal imbalances.

Who suffers from headaches?

Many millions of adults, worldwide, get headaches regularly. Headaches are among the most commonphysical complaints prompting people to treat themselves or get professional assistance. Most headaches are not signs of serious underlying conditions, but they can be very distracting, debilitating and account for significant amounts of time lost from work.

What should I be concerned about?

If you are a headache sufferer, your obvious concern is to obtain safe, dependable relief.Headache pain should not be ignored – the source of your headache is most important, which will help guide proper treatment protocols for you. Be aware that even over-the-counter, nonprescription drugs can have serious side effects and dangerous interactions with other medications or supplements you take. You should also be aware that many people experience what are termed “analgesic rebound headaches” from taking painkillers every day, or nearly every day. The medicine you take to get rid of today’s headache may give you a headache tomorrow and the days after.

What can be done?

The successful treatment of cervicogenic, tension-type, and migraine headaches usually requires amultifaceted approach using physiotherapy, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, laser therapy, nutrition and adjunctive modalities, such as heat, ice, electrical stimulation and ultrasound. Avoid cheeses, wine, chocolate, coffee, teas, colas, sugar, MSG, smoked meats, dairy products, aspartame (NutraSweet), metabisulfates, and nitrates. Also, avoid any known allergens, bright lights, and excessive fatigue. Trigger point therapy and deep tissue massage to address tension of muscles of jaw and neck region. Ice packs over neck region.

Regular joint manipulation of your neck and upper back joints to allow proper joint motion as wellas decrease any associated muscle tension. Acupuncture to help decrease associated symptoms such as pain and stiffness. The first consideration in neck rehabilitation should be restoration of the neck’s normal range of motion. A second goal is to strengthen the neck as much as possible. Strengthening exercises to help address the weak muscles in the neck and upper back, improve muscle stability to help maintain proper spinal posture which allow your chiropractic adjustments to hold longer. Properly supportive neck pillows that help address the tension of the neck muscles associated with the headaches as well as to provide a proper support of your neck curvature while sleeping.

Conservative treatment has shown to be as effective and even more effective than medications inreducing the severity and frequency of headaches.

Jaw Pain / TMJ

Temporomandibular joint disease or TMJ is a dysfunction of the jaw joint. It ischaracterized by jaw pain or popping/clicking, and an inability to open the mouth fully. The pain may spread to the ears, neck, and shoulders and cause a cervicogenic headache. TMJ may be associated with dental problems, grinding of teeth, emotional strain, or hyper tonicity and imbalance of the chewing muscles.

Symptoms include pain increases with chewing and talking; cannot open mouth fully.