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Neck Pain and Headaches

The headache has been called “the most common complaint of civilized man” and for anyone who has ever suffered from a severe headache this will come as no shock. While all headaches are quite unpleasant people often describe them in different ways.

Delinda Dawson is one of the most highly trained physiotherapists in Australia when it comes to treating and managing the various manifestations of headache. All staff at Ironside Sports and Physiotherapy have undertaken additional training to help treat and manage headache.

Common feelings of headache are:

  • Cervicogenic headaches (referred from joints, muscles and tight fascia)

  • Tension headaches (generally caused due to inappropriate muscle contraction)

  • Viral illness and respiratory infection

  • Other causes of headache that are less common can include sporting related headaches, medication related headaches and swelling / increased pressure in the cranium (from brain bleeds and tumours).

Neck pain and pathology will have a direct relationship to some headaches, some common referral patterns from the neck that can cause headaches are:

  • Poor posture: the head and neck a position in such a way to allow for maximum movement, and in proper posture and alignment the forces our head places on our neck are dealt with and we never experience a problem, unfortunately most people do not sit with good neck posture. We tend to slouch when sitting which places excessive strain on our neck, we also tend to spend too much time in the one position looking at a computer screen or reading, which causes our neck to stiffen and seize up. The tension that is placed though our neck and shoulder muscles doubles for every 2-3cm that our head sits forward. We don’t even get a break when we head to bed with poor sleeping posture and poor pillows are major factor in neck pain. People who chronically sleep on their stomach have a much higher occurrence of neck pain than those who sleep on their backs.

  • Injury and nerve irritation: Accidents while playing sport or at work can have a direct relationship to our neck health. These injuries do not need to be as severe as a tackle in a game of rugby, and may result from twisting your head around too fast – these factors all have an impact on the structures of the neck.

  • Whiplash: Most people are familiar with the concept of whiplash, where your head is snapped forward and then backwards in a very violent manner which places a very high stress on the muscles and ligaments on the neck, in some causes even causing tearing to occur. Whiplash associated Disorders (WAD’s) are a very serious and significant injury and should never be treated lightly.

  • Degenerative change: As part of the normal aging process our joints wear out, and unfortunately this can lead to the development of neck pain and other associated disorders. People who have osteoporosis or arthritis have an increased chance of developing pain and further issues as part of the degeneration. People who have osteoporosis and arthritis will tend to need ongoing maintenance from a physiotherapist to ensure the best possible function.

  • Acute Wry Neck: this is a very painful condition in which you head and neck will feel locked in a specific position, when you try to move from this position you will feel a very sharp pain. If you feel you are suffering from this condition then it is important to contact your physiotherapist as soon as possible, as early intervention will yield the best outcomes.

How do I prevent neck pain and headaches…?

  • To move correctly our bodies have to work in synergy, with our joints and muscles all connected and reliant on each other to provide appropriate movement. The neck is one of the most complex areas of the body with a large number of muscles and ligaments to help control the very specific movement that we require from our head. To prevent neck pain and headaches it is important to determine what factors are affecting you and work out the best way to help minimise these factors. Your physiotherapist will be able to assist you in working out what factors you will need to consider to help prevent your neck pain. The best tips to help prevent and reduce neck pain are:

  • Good posture: good posture includes a standing and sitting posture to make sure that your head is well supported by your neck and that the joints are not taking any excessive strain. To ensure that you maintain this good posture it is important to make sure that your workstation is set up to minimise poor posture habits and that your pillow is the correct height to make sure your sleeping patterns are not impacting your neck.

  • Move: It sounds simple, and the best thing is, it is simple. If you sit or stand with your head in a single posture for extended periods of time you place a very high load on your neck and this will cause it to seize up. Stepping away from your computer for five minutes every half-hour will help to ensure that your neck maintains freedom and good movement.

  • Strength: you need to ensure that all the muscles that help contribute to your posture are working to the best of their ability and that you are not compensating with bad posture. Your physiotherapist will be able to help assess your muscular strength and develop and exercise program if required.

What will the physio do about my neck pain…?

  • As you can see above there is no single cause of neck pain as it can be both a chronic and acute condition. Your physiotherapist will be able to assess what specific pathology you suffer from and take appropriate action to help control your neck pain and headaches. A physiotherapist will use a variety of techniques to help manage and treat your pain:

  • Our physiotherapists are trained in a range of specialised neck treatment techniques:

  • Jones Technique (strain-counter-strain): a very effect and low impact method of treatment that involves use of precise points across the body to help relieve pain

  • Watson Headache techniques: The current leading information on headache treatment

  • Soft tissue massage and tissue releasing

  • Joint manipulations

  • The use of therapeutic ultrasound and electrical stimulation.

  • The use of a hot pack / ice pack to help reduce the level of pain.

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