Headaches are common, with about 50% of the population having at least one in the last year. Some people, however, suffer from headaches far more frequently than that. These headaches can cause someone to take days off work, miss social engagements, and just generally decrease the quality of life.

There are many contributing factors that can lead to developing headaches, e.g. dehydration, stress, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition, but did you know that headaches can be caused by neck problems? If you’ve tried all the usual remedies like getting plenty of sleep, drinking water, eating well, and getting exercise, but your headaches persist, you may be suffering from cervicogenic headaches. In this blog post we will explain how your neck can cause headaches, some common habits that contribute the development of headaches, and how physiotherapy can help to decrease the frequency and intensity of your headaches.

What are Cervicogenic headaches?

Cervicogenic headache is pain experienced in the head or face that is referred from structures in the neck. It’s usually felt on one side and can be anywhere from the forehead and temple, to the eye area, jaw, or neck.

To understand how this happens, we need to understand a little bit about anatomy. The nerve that lets us feel touch, pain, and temperature in the face is called the trigeminal nerve. Sensory information is sent through this nerve to an area in the brainstem called the trigeminocervical nucleus. Information also comes to this area from the bones, discs, joints, and soft tissues in the upper neck. The result is that pain originating in the neck can be referred to the face and head, and this is what we then call a headache.

What is causing my neck pain and headache?

There are many causes of neck pain, but one that most of us can relate to is poor posture and lack of movement. How long do you spend staring straight ahead at a computer? What about looking down at your phone? These postures are ok for a short about of time, but sitting still for long periods is, unfortunately, a common part of many jobs. This puts stress on your joints and muscles and can cause neck pain and stiffness, especially if you sit in a forward head posture.

Imagine that your head weighs 4.5kg. If your head is directly over your neck, it puts 4.5kg of force through the spine. If you lean forwards by 15 degrees it then produces 12kg of force, and at 30 degrees it’s 18kg. No wonder our necks are so tired by the end of the day!

What can I do to improve my neck pain and headaches?

  • Improve your posture. Ideally your ear should line up with your shoulder.
  • Take movement breaks. Try setting an alarm for every 30 minutes. When it rings look up and down, and side to side five times then roll your shoulders back ten times. You could also take a short walk to the toilet or to get a drink.
  • Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet, do some exercise, reduce stress where possible, and get enough sleep.

Physiotherapy can be broken down simply into two parts.

  1. Calm it down. Physiotherapists use manual therapy to mobilise the joints in your neck that aren’t moving correctly and release tension in tight muscles.
  2. Build it up. Your physiotherapist will also provide you with some simple exercises to strengthen your neck – this is the key to preventing headaches in the long term!

What to do now

If you or someone you know are suffering from headaches give us a call at Generation Physio, we have a friendly team of professionals that are dedicated to changing the lives of our clients. All of our clinicians are mobile and come to your own home to conduct an examination. Give us a call on 1300 122 884 to book a consultation today.


Written by Jamila Gibb 

Jamila graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Exercise Science and a Master of Physiotherapy in 2019. She has completed a wide range of clinical placements including orthopaedic, musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, neurological rehabilitation, and community.

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