All of us at some point in our lives have experienced a good whopping headache. You know, one of those that lingers and throbs and generally makes us miserable. Usually we attribute them to stress, eye strain (i.e., from staring at a computer screen), caffeine withdrawal, or even from (gasp) a night of overindulgence. While these are all valid factors, one area that is often overlooked is the neck.
Tension headaches may originate in the neck and usually present with the following characteristics:
1. Pain that is more often present than absent
2. Pain that feels like pressure or like a band
3. Pain that is located over the whole head, in the forehead, or just in the neck
Migraine headaches usually do not stem from the neck and will present with one or more of these qualities:
1. Pain that comes in attacks and does not last for more than one week
2. Pain that is throbbing and pulsating
3. Pain that is usually unilateral (on one side)
4. Prod Ronal signs or indications, such as flickering of light, poor vision or vomiting
There are many options, which can be utilized in the treatment of headaches. These include modalities (i.e. heat and ice), manual techniques (such as massage and myofacial release), self-treatment techniques (such as relaxation techniques), and ultimately medication, either over the counter or prescribed by a doctor.
Modalities consist of heat or ice to the neck or base of the scull, ultra sound (deep heat), or electrical stimulation. These modalities work to relax the structures in the neck, letting the blood flow more freely. Additional techniques includes traction (manual and possible mechanical)and sustained positions to open up the spaces in the neck and to decrease the possible involvement of the discs. By opening up the spaces between the vertebrae, the nerves then have more room to “breathe” and there is less pinching.
Self-treatment may be as simple as correcting one’s posture, to applying ice or heat, or taking long slow breaths to put your self in a more relaxed state and educe the tightness in the neck muscles. Another very important self-treatment technique is postural correction. When sitting or standing make sure your ears are in line with your shoulders and hips. This position will help decrease the tension in the muscles in the back of your neck and any pressure on the nerves or vascular structures.
So, the next time you have a headache, sit up a little straighter. It just might do the trick! If you have questions or would like to stop by for a free consultation, please call us at 914-255-8807 or 914-762-2222. Or visit our website. Meryle Richman, PT, DPT, MS, CST, Director at Physical Therapy at Briarcliff & Jefferson Valley, PC.