Headaches can occur for many reasons and can feel very different depending on the cause. Neck stiffness and dysfunction is a common contributor to headache and migraine, and is frequently overlooked. This can mean patients taking more medications and suffering more frequently than need be.
Headaches from the neck often have focal pain at the base of the skull and radiate to the temple, forehead or eye region. It’s well established that the neck refers pain to the head due to shared nerve pathways. When irritated by neck dysfunction, the nerves can mistakenly cause head pain – sometimes without even causing any neck pain. We call this a cervicogenic headache.
In the case of migraine, the neurological relationship is less clear but there is some evidence to suggest that neck dysfunction may be a common trigger for episodes and that those using manual treatments may have fewer migraines and use less pain management medication overall.
Who it affects
Cervicogenic headaches and migraine are more common in women than men, and can be coupled with other headache disorders such as tension headaches or cluster headaches. Episodes can be aggravated by sudden neck movements or after long periods spent in one posture, making it especially common for people who work at desks.
What we do about it
Headaches triggered by neck stiffness or tension can be treated using a range of approaches including hands-on treatment, exercise prescription and ergonomic adjustments to your workplace. The first step is to be determine what type of headache your are suffering from, and what musculoskeletal factors might be contributing to it.