Neck Origin Headaches


Headaches can be caused by genetic predisposition for joint irritation, poor posture, arthritis, repetitive tasks, ongoing stress and even exercise. These stresses typically aggravate the facet joints which are on either side of the spinous process and in turn aggravate the nerves in the neck. Often the nerves that supply the scalp and surface of the skull are compressed due to extreme extension of the top most joint in the spine.

A simple test for postural assessment is to have someone look at you from the side, and imagine a string hanging down from your earlobe. If the sting would pass in front of the shoulder then the chin needs to be tucked back. Use two fingers at the base of the chin and gently push your chin back; this is the optimal place for your head to rest. When the head which is about the weight of a bowling ball is too far forward, it pulls the attached spine with it, flattening the healthy spinal curvature. With a healthy positioned head (earlobes over mid-shoulder) the neck is able to tolerate the force of gravity’s pull. However, when the head is too far forward muscles behind the head are strained, stretched and in some cases caused to spasm. Prolonged overstretched/strained muscles weaken them and cause headache pain because they are less supportive.


Treatment includes a combination of modalities like ice to the neck, massage and joint mobilization to the joints in the neck and a meticulously progressed exercise program taking into account the weakness in the neck.

Exercises to stabilize the neck and alleviate stress to both the nerve roots and the facet joints is the cornerstone of rehab from these headaches however its effects are latent requiring 3-4 weeks of consent exercise and joint mobilization to see significant changes. However these exercise start as simple as chin tucks with the head supported and progress to fully weight superman pose over the end of an exercise ball.

Anti-inflammatories may be useful as a tool for a prescribed time and should be something you ask your doctor about as part of your rehab program.