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Is Your Headache a Result of Neck Pain?

Did you know there are more than 150 types of headaches? From tension and sinus issues to migraines, headaches can be debilitating to those who experience frequent bouts. But the pain doesn’t always originate in your head. Some headaches are caused by problems in the neck. This is called a cervicogenic headache and is an example of referred pain.

What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?

There are many issues that can cause this type of headache. Some people develop cervicogenic headaches after an injury to the neck, such as whiplash. More commonly, these headaches are caused by a pinched nerve in the neck, arthritis, or muscle tightness (aka a stiff neck).

Cervicogenic headaches feel somewhat different from other types of headaches. In many cases, the pain is only on one side of the head. The pain typically starts at the bottom of your skull and travels up one side of the head and/or face. Some people also feel pain around one eye, which is called occipital neuralgia. In addition, you may experience stiffness or tightness in the neck.

Unlike tension headaches or sinus pressure, which can often be relieved with over-the-counter pain relievers, headaches caused by neck issues are more difficult to treat. Often real relief doesn’t occur until the tightness in the neck is corrected.

How Can I Relieve Headaches from Neck Pain?

Here are a few tips that can help you prevent and relieve these types of headaches:

  • Pay attention to ergonomics – The way you sit can put strain and pressure on your neck. This is a common problem for people who work in front of a computer all day. Sometimes a simple adjustment to your chair height or monitor placement can make all the difference. Be sure your computer monitor is directly in front of you at eye level – looking up or down for long periods can strain neck muscles. Choose a chair that is the right height for you. Your feet should rest flat on the floor when you sit.

  • Invest in a good pillow – Sleeping in an awkward position can put significant pressure on your neck. How many times have you woken up with a “crick” in your neck or pain when turning your head right or left? If your head dips down too far or is angled upward when you’re sleeping, you’ll probably wake up with neck pain. Look for a pillow that is designed for the way you like to sleep (i.e., side sleepers, back sleepers). Pillows that are too soft or too firm can also cause neck pain, so be sure to find the optimal firmness that keeps your neck in line with your spine.

  • Do daily stretching – Taking breaks during the workday and engaging in daily stretching can keep muscles from tightening and relieve pain from arthritis and chronic stiffness. The neck is a delicate area, so be sure to do gentle stretches with slow movements. If you’re not sure which stretches are appropriate, talk to a physical therapist who can design a routine for you.

Try these Simple Stretches

According to the Mayo Clinic, neck pain is one of the most common types of pain, occurring in one out of three people at least once a year. About 50% of those people also have headaches related to neck pain. If your pain is severe or lasts for more than a week, you should consult with a physician to determine the cause of your pain. Common treatments include pain relievers, heat and/or cold compresses, muscle relaxants, and physical therapy.

If you’re experiencing mild pain and stiffness or simply want to prevent neck pain, the following stretches can be helpful:

Forward and Backward Tilt

  • Start in a seated or standing position.

  • Keep your moves slow and smooth.

  • With your head squarely over your shoulders and your back straight, lower your chin toward your chest and hold for 15-30 seconds. Relax and slowly lift your head back up.

  • Next, tilt your chin up toward the ceiling and bring the base of your skill toward your back. Hold for 10 seconds and return to start position.

Head Pull

  • Bend your head forward and slightly to the right.

  • With your right hand, gently pull your head downward. You'll feel a nice, easy stretch along the back left side of your neck.

  • Hold for about 30 seconds.

  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Stretch Your Back

Oftentimes, a stiff neck is accompanied by tight muscles in the back and shoulders. When muscles around the spine or under the scapula become tight, it causes other connected muscles and ligaments to tense in response. Therefore, it can be very helpful to also perform simple back stretches every day, such as lying down and bringing your knees to your chest or rotating your hips from one side to the other.

Use a PhysioBoard to Help You Stretch

Doing stretches while lying down can be difficult or impossible for people who have trouble getting down and up from the floor. Some people resort to doing stretches and exercises in bed, but mattresses don’t provide an effective surface. In fact, the “give” of a mattress can cause more strain on the back.

PhysioBoard is a simple solution! This lightweight, yet firm board transforms any bed into an effective exercise surface. Just place PhyisoBoard on your bed when you’re ready to stretch or exercise and remove it when you’re done. It can easily be stored in a closet or behind a door (no need for an expensive bulky exercise table).

PhysioBoard has helped many people continue their exercise and stretching routines safely and effectively. Listen to what some satisfied customers have to say:

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