Everyone gets headaches from time to time.
A few common causes include stress, tiredness, and dehydration. When we get a headache, most people just take some pain relief medication, have a big glass of water, and continue on with what they’re doing. Do you find yourself needing to do this frequently, without there being a specific reason that has caused the headache? You may have an underlying neck condition that you are not aware of that result in headaches developing, and the pain relief medication is just masking the cause of pain.
Up to 70% of headaches are classified as cervicogenic (up to 70%), that is the headache has either originated in the neck, or some issues in the neck develop as a result of the headache. Even people with headaches often don’t realise that their neck is sore. Massage of the neck, shoulders, and upper back can be helpful to relieve this muscle tension and make you feel more relaxed, but the tightness has developed for some reason.
As physiotherapists, we need to assess why you are developing headaches and what is causing the surrounding muscle tightness. Commonly, the upper cervical joints are affected, with pressure over these areas producing a headache. This can be as far-reaching as discomfort behind the eyes, nose, or cheek. Hands-on physiotherapy targeting these joints can be uncomfortable during the treatment and for a short time after, but provide good relief of headaches. Most patients find that their neck my continue to be sore but have relief from headaches.
If structures in the neck are causing the headaches, physiotherapy should have a significant positive effect after physiotherapy treatment. If there is not sufficient improvement with manual therapy, your physiotherapist would contact your doctor to organise a medical check-up for other causes of headaches.
Treatment of the neck will provide long-term relief and help prevent future occurrences, rather than just the short-term fixes of taking pain relief or having a massage. If you’re not sure why you are experiencing headaches or neck/ shoulder/ upper back tightness, a review with a physiotherapist is a good idea to see if this is being caused by an underlying neck condition.