neck pain and headaches

Coping With Neck Pain and Headaches

How many times have you thought of somebody to be “a pain in the neck”? Interestingly, however, a number of physical issues that affect the neck actually manifest themselves as “a pain in the head” – or a headache. There are many causes of neck pain and of headaches, so make sure you are informed before you decide upon a course of treatment – get a diagnosis from your physician or physiotherapist.

How to Relieve Neck Pain

Physiotherapists are trained to diagnose and treat neck joint dysfunctions and muscle imbalances. Your physiotherapist may employ some or all of the following techniques, depending on the individual diagnosis of your neck pain:

  • Gentle join mobilization and manipulation to loosen or unlock stiff neck joints.
  • Strengthening exercises for weak muscles, focusing on neck muscles and postural shoulder blades.
  • Stretching, massage, acupuncture, dry needling or other relaxation techniques to provide relief to tight or overactive muscles.
  • Deep neck muscle strengthening exercises for control, stabilization and limiting the joint movement of unstable joints.
  • Exercise, awareness, taping or a brace to correct poor posture.
  • Prevention advice regarding awkward postures to avoid in future.

In addition, if you have any type of nerve dysfunction, it will be addressed with special care. Depending upon the severity of your problem and its underlying causes, it should be resolved within a few days or a few weeks. Rehabilitation will be based on both treatment and prevention.

Why Does my Neck Hurt?

Although the physical problem originates in the neck, the pain radiates to the head, causing discomfort; the pain signals travel from your neck to the trigeminocervical nucleus in your brainstem and a headache results. Research has shown that neck headaches account for anywhere from 4% to 22% of all headaches treated clinically.

Various musculoskeletal or neurovascular structures in your cervical spine (neck) can be at the root of cervicogenic neck headaches when they are out of balance or malfunctioning. Your neck joints, neck muscles and nerves are the most likely culprits of your neck pain.

  • Your joints may be too stiff or too wobbly – unsupported because surrounding muscles are weak.
  • The joints may also be locked in an abnormal joint position, likely due to poor posture. Given the number of us who sit in front of computer terminals all day, this shouldn’t be surprising.
  • Problems with your cervical disks may also result in pain that radiates from neck to head.

Your neck muscles may work too hard if they are trying to protect injured joints. Over time the balance in your neck muscles changes, causing your head to feel heavy because some of the muscles that should be supporting your head have weakened, while the others have tried to compensate. Neck muscles work best when they have normal resting tension, length, strength, power and endurance.

why does my neck hurt

Common Neck Headache Symptoms

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you likely have a neck headache:

  • Tenderness at the base of the skull and top of the neck.
  • Neck stiffness or mild loss of movement.
  • Your headache pain radiates from the back of the head to the front.
  • Your headache is centred on one side of your head or the other and stays there.
  • When you apply pressure or massage the base of your skull or your neck, the pain eases.
  • Your headache is lessened or heightened by a sustained posture, neck movement, or sleeping on your stomach or with your head turned to one side.

Given that there are more than 300 known causes for headaches, your physiotherapist may determine that the neck isn’t the cause of your headache. If your symptoms indicate a different cause, they will direct you toward the proper source of treatment.

Is your neck causing you headaches?

back pain

Does Back Pain Go Away on its Own?

Your back is probably one part of your body that doesn’t require much thought – unless it’s hurting. Unfortunately, according to Statistics Canada, four out of five Canadians, or 80 per cent, will experience back pain during their lifetimes.

In all likelihood, back pain will strike between the ages of 30 and 50. Even more disconcerting, in 80 to 90 per cent of cases, it won’t be possible to identify the cause of this pain and the pain is likely to recur.

Standard Back Pain

The spine, muscles and ligaments are the building blocks of your back. It actually should come as no surprise that back pain is nearly universal; after all, the spine is a complex structure, itself comprising both cartilage disks and bone, that allows the body to accomplish a variety of disparate tasks, such as walking, bending and twisting.

Injury to any of these components can result in back pain. Usually, the pain is acute and will eventually subside. However, some people suffer long-term or chronic pain and require ongoing treatment and/or exercise.

The following conditions are common causes for back injury and the resulting pain:

  • Obesity
  • Improper warm-up before exercise
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Deformities
  • Degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis
  • Poor posture
  • Weak abdominal muscles

lower back pain
If you assume that your back pain will simply go away, you may cause additional damage. Your first reaction may be bed rest, but that can lead to stiffness and make movement more challenging.

How to Treat Back Pain

When you first experience back pain, it’s important to treat yourself gently. Most back pain is related to muscle strain and will ease within a few days. Take these initial measures to aid recovery:

  • Easy does it. Ease up on your activities and refrain from putting extra pressure on your back.
  • Chill out, then heat things up. Ice your back for the first 48 hours after the injury makes itself known. The cold initially slows swelling and inflammation while numbing the pain. After 48 hours, however, it’s important to get blood flowing into the area to promote healing and relax spasms.
  • Over-the-counter help. Unless you are taking prescription drugs that would interfere, use an over-the-counter medication to relieve pain and promote healing. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs are effective for pain relief and reduction of inflammation, but they are only intended for short-term use. Don’t continue to rely on them for more than a week. If NSAIDs aren’t permitted, try acetaminophen, although be aware of its potential side effects.
  • Rub-a-dub-dub. Take advantage of a gentle massage by your partner to help stretch tight ligaments and muscles, which, in turn, may offer some relief.
  • Keep moving. Restrict your activities, but don’t stop moving altogether. Motion is more effective than bed rest in treating basic back pain.

back pain physiotherapy
If your pain persists, it’s time to check in with a healthcare professional. In fact, it may be worth considering preventive measures before back pain strikes unexpectedly. Your family physician may refer you to a physiotherapist who can provide a course of rehabilitation or preventive exercises.

Good Back Health

Meanwhile, lend yourself a helping hand by following these tips to good back health as you move through the day:


  • Don’t stay seated for more than 10-15 minutes t a time. Get up and stretch or walk around.
  • Sit in a high back chair with arm supports to prevent you from rounding your spine.
  • To rise, move to the front of your chair and straighten your legs, rather than bending at the waist.
  • Don’t lean over your work or hunch your back. Adjust your workstation accordingly.


  • Stand properly with your shoulders straight, chest forward, head up and hips tucked in. Balance your weight evenly on both feet.
  • Avoid standing in the same position for too long.

Even if you experience back pain, it can be addressed and managed. Don’t ignore it.

Experiencing BACK PAIN?