By Rebecca Baker, PTA
Most people have experienced some type of headache in their life, whether it has been a mild sensation of tension, pressure, or a full blown migraine that is life altering. Sometimes we are able to muster our way through our daily tasks. Other times, though, the severity can render us unable to do anything but find a dark and quiet room in an attempt to abait the pain. There can be an underlying cervical issue that can be directly related to our symptoms. Cervicogenic headaches (CGH) and migraines are not the same, but CGH can become a trigger for a migraine.
Headaches and migraines can also be worsened by musculoskeletal tightness and stress. Chronic or frequent headaches generally have been associated with poor posture and prolonged loading of the cervical spine outside of a neutral position which creates musculoskeletal imbalance. Typically there are muscle groups that are stretched and weak and muscle groups that are tight and overworked. How many times have we been caught looking down at our phones, squinting and leaning in to see a computer screen from eye fatigue, or bending our head to hold the phone during that hour long conversation all the while probably slouched while sitting in a chair? I can hear the echo of my grandmother… “ Sit up straight, put your shoulders back.” She was right!
Treatment for cervicogenic headache should target the cause of the pain in the neck and varies depending upon what works best for the individual patient. Treatments include physical therapy and exercise, and may require medications or further intervention by a specialist.
Physical therapy is an avenue for those suffering from headache and migraine symptoms to undergo comprehensive assessment and treatment for possible underlying cervical involvement. You will also be prescribed an exercise program that is safe and effective in reducing severity, frequency and duration of symptoms. It includes an ongoing exercise regimen that seeks to restore joint mobility, alignment, and strength. These corrective exercises can be utilized as prevention and even as treatment for headaches. It gives you independence and an added tool in your tool box to manage your symptoms.
So maybe you should take the time to check in with yourself. Do you have frequent headaches? Does your upper back and shoulder muscles feel tight or are they easily fatigued? Do you have neck pain? Do you hear the echo of your grandmother in your ear about your posture? If you answered yes to these questions, then you should consider physical therapy as a way to evaluate and help address your headache issues.