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?

maintain good posture

How to Maintain Good Posture as You Age

Many of you have childhood memories of your parents saying, “Stand up straight” and “Don’t slouch.” At the time, it seemed like just one more rule or annoyance that made you roll our eyes. Little did you know that their admonitions were not empty instructions, but a prescription for better health as you age.

What is Proper Posture?

It varies, depending on whether you are sitting or standing. When sitting at a desk, your knees should be level with your hips and your feet should be flat on the floor. Crossing your legs can impair circulation. If you are standing, try to stand with weight distributed equally on both legs. Your shoulders should be back and your chest slightly out with the ears positioned over the shoulders.

Why is Good Posture so Important?

It can keep you looking younger and staying healthier as you age. Proper posture helps prevent a myriad of health issues, including:

  • Decreased range of motion. Your muscles and ligaments can tighten or stretch if you regularly sit in a slumped position. Once this happens, these muscles and ligaments don’t function properly.
  • Decreased lung capacity. Good posture allows the appropriate amount of air to flow through your lungs. Otherwise, your chest cavity may decrease in size and prevent your lungs from functioning properly.
  • Low back pain. A major consequence of poor posture.
  • Increased discomfort. Poor posture can lead to headaches and pain in your shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Jaw pain. If your head is thrust forward, it can result in temporomandibular joint disease, once considered solely a dental problem.
  • Spine misalignment and rounding. Poor posture can result in a spine that is out of position and may lead to interference in nerve function. Osteoporosis can cause compression or destruction of vertebrae.

How to Maintain Good Posture?

Now that you have incentive to stand tall, how can you make sure you maintain good posture? It’s not as difficult as you may fear; it just requires a bit of time and effort.

posture and aging
Try these approaches:

  • Stay limber. If you spend most of your day sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, it’s important to maintain a good range of motion. Get up for a few minutes each hour and stretch your arms overhead with fingers interlaced or walk around a bit to keep the body moving.
  • Stay flexible. Each morning, lie on the floor and make snow angels for a few minutes to stretch your muscles. You can challenge yourself by placing a foam roller or a rolled up towel under your spine for an extra stretch. Go slowly and stop if you feel anything other than mild discomfort.
  • Sit up straight. Good posture while sitting is a habit worth cultivating. It requires strong core muscles, so consider some strengthening exercises, yoga or Pilates; the abdomen is the heart of good posture and helps improve everything from urinary incontinence to sex.
  • Correct your computer. If you work at a computer, be sure that your eyes are level with the screen and that your arms and wrists are straight and parallel to the floor.
  • Strengthen your spine. Women have weakening around the spine after menopause so it’s crucial to keep the surrounding muscles strong. Strong spine and trunk muscles are especially important when you need to stand for long periods of time. Inquire at your gym about exercises or machines that strengthen the back extensors, neck flexors, pelvic muscles, and side muscles.
  • Add some weight. Build some weight-bearing exercises into your routine. Osteoporosis, the disease that thins your bones, can cause vertical compression fractures that make us shorter as we age and even lead to dowager’s hump. Weight-bearing exercises help prevent a loss of bone density, so consider lifting weights, walking or climbing stairs to keep you tall and strong.
  • Check your calcium intake. Calcium is important for building strong bones. Women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams daily; after 50, the recommended dose increases to 1,200 mg. Usually, a healthy diet provides the necessary amount, but there are supplements available, although they may make you more susceptible to other health problems.

Monitoring your Posture

It’s never too early or too late in life to improve posture. Before you undertake an exercise regimen, document your current posture to establish a baseline for future comparison.

monitor posture
Put on your exercise gear or wear comfortable clothes and ask someone to take full-length photos of you from the front, the side and the back. If you do this once a year, you can see if changes are taking place and work to correct them. In addition, monitor your posture as you walk past mirrors to ensure that you are standing tall.

Remember, although everyone ages, numerical age can also be a state of mind – and body. If you have good posture, you’ll look younger and feel younger, too.

Experiencing PAIN from POOR POSTURE?

Improve your posture

How to Improve Posture - Seven Tips

Everyday activities such as sitting on office chairs, standing, sleeping or carrying a bag on the same shoulder can cause poor posture. Poor posture can create pain issues in your neck, back, and shoulders. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to improve your posture. By making a few adjustments, you can address poor posture and eliminate the pain caused by it.

How to make posture a good habit

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1. Keep your body aligned while sitting and standing

Sit up straight while in a chair, keep your hips, shoulders and ears aligned in one vertical line. Try to avoid crossing your legs, hunching shoulders or looking down at your screen. Sitting on a balance ball can help improve your posture by using your natural balance. When standing, distribute your body weight evenly between the front, back and sides of the feet. Being aware of how you are holding your body and taking the time to adjust throughout the day will help keep your posture in check.

2. Utilize posture friendly props and chairs

  • Minimize back strain by using bags or backpacks that are designed to evenly distribute weight and reduce back strain.
  • Avoid straining your neck with proper placement of your computer screen. Purchasing a monitor shelf that raises the screen to eye level will help reduce strain on your neck.
  • Using lumbar back pillows when sitting or driving can create ergonomic support for your lower back and ease the strain on your overall body.

3. Take a break and move!

Slouching is a result of your muscles tiring and is where poor posture becomes more likely, resulting in extra pressure on the neck and back. Take a break every 30 minutes for two minutes and stretch, stand or walk.

4. Wear supportive footwear when standing

High-heeled shoes change the body’s centre of gravity and negatively affect back support and posture. Choose supportive shoes when you know you will be standing for extended periods of time. For those in jobs that require standing for an entire shift, supportive orthotics may be necessary.

5. Think good posture when lifting

When lifting, maintain good back posture to avoid injury. Good back posture includes looking forward, bending at the knee and keeping your back straight. Back injuries are commonly caused by twisting or lifting and occur during awkward movements.

6. Keep good posture while sleeping

If you are waking with a sore back or neck, there are many things to consider posture-wise while sleeping that could help:

  • Choose a firm mattress for the best back support
  • Sleeping on your side or back is better on your spine than stomach sleeping
  • If you sleep on your side, placing a flat pillow in between your knees will keep your spine straight
  • Use a pillow that provides proper alignment. You don’t want your head to be tilted upwards or downwards but in a neutral position.

7. Try and adopt an overall relaxed posture

There is such a thing as trying too hard. Keeping your body in a stiff, unnatural position to maintain good posture can create more pain as tense muscles put your body out of alignment. Keeping your body relaxed will lead to less stiffness over time.

There are many ways to help yourself when it comes to improving your posture. If you find you need assistance, your physiotherapist can design a customized treatment plan for you to get your body properly aligned again.

Suffering from INJURY due to poor posture?