Headaches are a common condition that interferes with the daily activities and quality of life of millions of North Americans. The majority of individuals do not seek treatment, and instead rely on medication to try to diminish their symptoms. Unfortunately, medication only temporarily reduces their symptoms and often will not address the cause of their headaches. In many cases prolonged medication use can lead to side effects such as liver damage, kidney problems, and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Research has shown that dysfunction of the muscles and joints of the neck are closely linked to headache symptoms. Even different types of headaches such as tension headaches and migraines are associated with muscles and joint dysfunction. Problems in the function of the cervical spine can cause headache pain through a process know as pain referral. In many headaches resulting from neck dysfunction pain or tightness will often be present in the neck as well, however the neck will in many cases remain symptom free with headache being the only symptom present. This type of headache is very common in those with a history of motor vehicle accidents or other head or neck trauma – even if the accident was a many years ago and there was no major injury at the time of the accident. Additionally, people with poor posture or who sit for prolonged periods at work in front of a computer are prone to develop this form of headache due to the postural stain placed on the muscles and joints of the neck and shoulders.
Treatment is focused on addressing the dysfunction that exists in the muscles and joints of the neck. This requires a thorough history and examination to first determine which muscles and joints are the most problematic in each individual (problems in different muscles and joints will lead to different quality and location of headache symptoms). Once identified, key areas of joint restrictions are may be addressed with mobilizations or chiropractic adjustments and specific muscle tension is treated with Myofascial Release Technique (MRT). It is also common for the deep stabilizing neck muscles to become weak. When this happens strengthening of this muscle group is required, which is accomplished through home functional rehabilitative exercise, which usually involves teaching the patient how to properly stretch the involved neck and shoulder musculature. Education and advice is usually give to minimize stress and postural strain which is placing excessive strain on the muscles and joints of the neck.