Headache Pain Resulting from Neck Problems
There are many different neck pain causes. The human body has many pain sensitive tissues, in fact, within the last ten years researchers have even determined that scar tissue is capable of sending sensations of pain into the nervous system.
It’s a Complex Issue
The complexities of determining from where pain originates is staggering. In fact, many medical professionals believe that back surgeries fail with such great frequency because the surgeries do not pinpoint the actual cause of the patient’s pain. For this reason alone it is wise to attempt all conservative measure of pain relief (such as chiropractic care) prior to more aggressive types of treatment like surgery or injections.
For most patients, the source of back pain is bio-mechanical, meaning that the pain originates of the joints themselves or from the muscles and ligaments that move and support the joints.
Patients frequently injure their necks from repetitive stress (too much computer & smart phone time), bad posture and car accidents. These injuries can damage the joints of the spine as well as strain the muscles that move and support the neck or strain the ligaments that provide stability to the spine. Since most neck injuries are caused by repetitive stress, it is important to identify the source of the stress. If the source of the irritation continues, it can be very difficult to relieve the symptoms.
Break the Pain Cycle
An easy analogy can be drawn between hitting your hand with a hammer and developing hand pain in that treatment won’t be very effective if you don’t stop hitting your hand with the hammer. This same philosophy applies to treatment for all conditions. Injuries to the neck or back always follow the same pattern in that there is some aggravating event that is followed by inflammation, pain and muscle spasm. This process will continue until treatment breaks the pain cycle.
Because individual patients with neck pain experience differing symptoms from each other (some have achiness while others may experience burning pain or sharp pain) it is important to understand where the pain is coming from – joints, muscles or ligaments. A physical exam can help determine which of these structures is contributing to the pain that you are experiencing. In some serious cases of neck pain there may be a pinched nerve in the neck that is causing your pain. Pinched nerves in the neck almost always cause pain or numbness / tingling to travel into the arm – sometimes these symptoms can go all the way into the hand.
Many patients with neck pain also experience headaches. In most cases these headaches are muscle tension type headaches but some patients experience migraine headaches as a result of neck pain. Regardless of the type of headache that you may experience, the mechanism that is responsible for the headache is muscle tightness or spasm.
Neck pain is always caused by irritation and inflammation of the joints and muscles in the neck. Irritation and inflammation causes muscle spasm which in turn triggers the headache. Some patients with neck issues don’t experience neck pain at all and only have headaches as a result of the irritated and tight muscles and joints in their necks. Chiropractic adjustments and therapy help restore full range of motion to the joints which subsequently relaxes the muscles in the neck (in particular the group that lies at the very top of the neck just beneath the skull) which relieves the headache symptoms whether they are muscle tension headaches or migraines.
Neck pain relief options usually begin with conservative therapy. Since most cases of neck pain are bio-mechanical in nature, chiropractic care is usually very effective. In my office, neck pain relief comes with a combination of chiropractic manipulations, physiotherapy, ice packs, stretching and exercising. Consistency of treatment is important with any kind of conservative therapy whether it be chiropractic care, physical therapy or acupuncture. Treatment that is delivered in a “hit and miss” schedule will most likely fail or only provide short term relief versus long term results.
Neck pain exercises are often focused on correcting postural issues which come from bad posture and repetitive stress. Exercises for neck pain are usually begun when the patient has achieved 80% reduction in their pain intensity. Exercising before you are ready can aggravate your neck pain causing unwanted set backs in the recovery process.
Neck pain relief is not only possible but it is likely – even if your pain is chronic. Relief from neck pain is very effective with conservative chiropractic care because it works to improve spinal bio-mechanics and restore strength and flexibility to your muscles and ligaments. Many research articles have indicated that a properly functioning joint complex that has strong yet flexible muscles that cross over the joint are much less likely to become painful or problematic in the future.
Neck pain diagnosis includes the doctor having an understanding of the patients injury history and a specific, focused examination. In some cases, x-rays or MRI may be necessary in order to rule out more serious conditions before treatment can begin – but this rarely happens. Since most cases of neck pain are do to bio-mechanical causes, these issues usually reveal themselves during the exam and history.