Many headaches originate in the neck. Technically, they are called Cervicogenic Headaches. They are a result of dysfunction within the top three vertebral segments of the spine. (Bogduk 1994 and 2001, Jull 2002). Dysfunction in the neck causes head pain in two distinct ways.
Convergence of nerves in the brain – the upper cervical spine (neck) and one of the sensation nerves of the head (Trigeminal nerve) both send messages to a common origin in the brain. This area is known as the Trigemino-Cervical Nucleus. (Bogduk 1997). The brain mistakes messages from the dysfunctional cervical spine as coming from the head.
Sensitisation of the brain – The Trigemino-Cervical Nucleus is like the “gatekeeper” of head pain. The perception of head pain is modulated from this area in the brain.
The Trigeminocervical Nucleus functions at a certain level of electrical excitation. If the area gets over-excited, it will become sensitised or overloaded and trigger head symptoms of many different kinds, including pain (Bartsch and Goadsby 2002 and 2003).
Think of it like a pot of bubbling soup on the stove. If the soup gets too hot, it will overflow and create problems.The electrical messages from the neck are one strong source of input into the Trigemino-Cervical Nucleus that can “heat” up and cause sensitisation. If these messages are stronger than normal as with neck stiffness and pain, they can trigger brain sensitisation.
There are many other sensitisers which are responsible for sensitising this area in the brain. Things like bright light, loud sounds, exercise, certain foods, anxiety and stress.
At The Physio Joint, we use highly trained manual therapy skills to identify movement and position faults of the upper three neck joints that specifically relate to the production of head and neck pain. We can confirm almost immediately if disorders in the upper neck are responsible for headache or migraine. There is no cracking or manipulation…..and no guesswork.
With this confirmation comes a clear direction and plan for treatment.
In rare difficult cases, we are well aligned with medical pain specialists to help these people find ways to relieve their head pain.
Exercise headaches can also have symptoms similar to migraines, such as nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sensitivity to sound.
Physiotherapists are treating more young patients suffering from the effects of working at computer stations that are either designed for adults or poorly designed for children.