Many people think that if they don’t have any pain in their neck then their headache is coming from elsewhere. However, the reality is that most headaches arise as a result of stiffness in the joints in the upper neck. When these joints get excessively stiff, they can refer pain into different parts of the head. Still sceptical?
If your headache is coming from your neck then skilled palpation (touching) of the neck joints and the overlying muscles by your physiotherapist will reveal whether your neck is the culprit by reproducing your headache.
For some people this is a little unnerving at first. However, it is a good thing if your headache symptoms are reproduced, as this then becomes the method for relieving your symptoms and confirms your neck as being the root of the problem.
Sustained pressure on the tight joints/muscles should cause a reduction in intensity of your headache as the tissue starts to release. Dry needling is another technique useful for settling down tightness. Once the joints responsible for the headache have been loosened you’re on your way to recovery.
Patients commonly report alcohol, hormonal changes, tiredness and stress as triggers preceding a headache. In terms of understanding the interaction between these triggers and the onset of a headache you need to understand that stimuli in the neck and the brain combine together to set your total level of sensitisation.
Think about it like a glass of water. If that glass is empty or minimally filled then you do not experience a headache. If the glass overflows with water then that level of sensitisation causes a headache. So the key therefore is how to stop the glass from overflowing. Stress, tiredness and hormonal changes are largely out of our control. But what if we consider neck stiffness as a trigger (even though you may not feel stiff in your neck)?
We can control our neck stiffness to a large extent through treatment, posture and exercise. So, if we keep the neck loose and empty the glass of water as much as possible then we can avoid teetering on the verge of overflowing the glass and causing a headache. If the glass is near or close to empty then it will take a big stimulus to tip it into overflow.
If headaches are impacting on your life, talk to your Physio about how to manage them or contact the team at Sydney Physiotherapy Solutions at either our Sydney CBD physio clinics or our new Chatswood Physiotherapy clinic.