Headaches are a commonly reported symptom to general practitioners. Headaches have a variety of causes that range from serious to benign (not life threatening). To simplify things, headaches can be classified as either mechanically induced or non-mechanically induced.
Mechanically induced headaches arise secondary to a neck problem. These individuals can either present with solely headaches or in conjunction with a neck ache. Non-mechanically induced headaches arise from pathological problems for example, tumors, chemical imbalance, infections, etc.
Mechanical headaches, also known as cervicogenic headaches, can be diagnosed and treated by physical therapists. The typical presentation is intermittent meaning, symptoms come and go dependent on the activities performed throughout the day. There’s usually some movement loss in the cervical spine making it difficult to either look up or turn your head to the side. Symptoms will usually arise from consistent and sustained activity in one posture. For example, these individuals may feel their symptoms gradually increase throughout the morning and afternoon as they sit at their desks during the work day but have no complaints on the weekends when they’re participating in activities such as hiking and bowling.
Here are three things that we suggest for self-management of headache symptoms:
1. IMPROVE POSTURE
Attaining and maintaining alignment of the spine is essential in order to reduce your risk of developing a mechanical headache. We reccomend the use of a lumbar support which will help maintain the proper curvature of the spine and decrease slouching while sitting at work or travelling in a car.
2. SLEEP POSITION
The number of pillows you sleep with may be causing your headaches. Headaches that occur in the morning and decrease as you get up and move are typically the result of poor sleeping posture. Sleeping with more than one pillow brings your head upward into a flexed position which places increased pressure on the cervical spine. Sleeping on your stomach requires you to turn your head towards one side which places an increased pressure on the opposite side of the cervical spine. For example, sleeping with your head turned to the right may develop left sided symptoms.
3. FREQUENT EXERCISE TO IMPROVE POSTURE
The McKenzie Institute, a leader in back, neck and spine care, has found several exercises to be effective for treatment of headaches. One of our trained therapists can evaluate you in order to determine which exercise will help you take control of your headaches. Sustained or held positions are usually the most effective when treating headaches. A simple exercise that can be performed at home may help you self-manage your symptoms.
Lay on your back in bed and place a cervical roll or a rolled up towel, approximately 3-4 inches in diameter, under the middle of your head (instead of a pillow) and hold for 5-15 minutes. This is a gentle exercise that will allow gravity to assist in re-aligning your spine. This exercise emphasizes the opposite position of what most humans perform daily while at work or school, which is slouching forward with a protruded head and shoulders rounded inward. If this exercise isn’t effective or only partially addresses your condition, please seek out a therapist to perform a full evaluation.
Please notify your physician if you have any of the following red flags associated with non-mechanically induced headaches: progressive worsening of intensity, recent and rapid severe onset, history of a major injury, nausea/vomiting, headache with visual changes, preceding sore throat or respiratory infection, problems with speech or swallowing, progressive muscle/body weakness, and mental changes.
If you or someone you know is suffering from headaches, please get in touch with us in either our Bristol office at 860-585-5800 or our Southington office at 203-272-8490 and set up an evaluation.