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neck headache treatment

Neck pain, discomfort, or injury could cause a neck headache, also called a cervicogenic headache. Neck headache typically occurs when there is some trauma to the structures in the cervical spine that surround the neck. The headache can spread, first to the back of the head, and then further to the top or to the sides of the head. Common sources for neck headache include a herniated disc, irritated spinal nerves, neck muscle tension, tight soft tissues, and stiff neck joints. These symptoms are generally known under the popular name of ‘stiff neck’. 

Neck headache often comes with a persistent throbbing pain that can spread to the lower back, causing discomfort in the shoulders and the arms, muscle tenderness, and limit motion in the upper body area. 

The tiny neck area is extremely important for proper mental and physical functioning of the whole body and pain that occurs here should not be disregarded. 

Exercises and Medications for Neck Headache Treatment

There are seven vertebrae which make the part of the spinal cord called cervical spine – thus the name cervicogenic headache or headache deriving from the neck area. Particular vertebrae attach to the skull base and the top of the shoulder blades. The neck area also includes the trapezius muscle and important nerves and arteries which enable blood flow to the brain. Thanks to its specific anatomy, the neck requires a well-structured physiotherapy treatment that targets the specific affected areas. Therefore, most physio programs for neck headache treatment don’t include one or two isolated treatments but are a combination of:

  • Manual physiotherapy to decrease stress and relieve tension and pain
  • Neck strengthening exercises to support the deep neck flexor muscles
  • Cardiovascular exercises to improve blood circulation and blood supply to the painful area
  • Soft tissue remedial massage
  • Nerve blocks – anaesthetic injections to desensitise suffering nerves  
  • Pain-relieving medication

A physiotherapist specialised in neck headache treatment can help you design a plan you can apply at the clinic and at home and significantly alleviate neck headache symptoms. Usually, a persistent exercise regimen works best to remove the pain trigger and should be done together with medication when necessary. 

Neck Headache Treatment at Home

As a general rule, you shouldn’t treat injuries without consulting a specialist. However, mild neck headache can be decreased by some self-help techniques you can do at home. You can apply them when your physiotherapist recommends or, by exception, when you are in need of a first-aid treatment and you should wait a long time for your next visit to the physiotherapy clinic. Here are the risk-free measures you can do in the meantime:

  • Put a heating pad or ice pack to your head for 5-10 minutes. Repeat if necessary.
  • Shower with hot water to release muscle tension.
  • Massage with a tennis ball.
  • Stretch. Do exercises such as back and forth shoulder rolls and squeezes, and rolling your head to your chest and back.
  • Maintain a good posture.
  • Take supplements – magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and B2 vitamin.
  • Use stress management techniques.

Unfortunately, eliminating neck headache is not always that simple. These techniques can alleviate the symptoms but the headache may come back later. It is important that you consult with a specialist to learn the cause of the symptoms and apply appropriate physiotherapy plan that is made just for your body. Sometimes, only the hand, the equipment, and the advice of a physio specialist can remove joint and muscle tension because the neck headache cause could be a disease. 

Examples of diseases that could cause neck headache include arthritis, herniated cervical discs, occipital neuralgia, and the herpes simplex virus. You should talk to a specialist if the neck headache doesn’t go away after a few weeks, or when it is accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms: serious trauma, blurred vision, seizures, hand numbness, as well as painful or red eyes and temple tenderness. 

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