The diagnosis of cervical headache is frequently under-recognised. Many symptoms of cervical headache are similar to other classifications of headache such as tension headache, migraine, hormonal headache and even cluster headache. There may also be clear dietary, environmental or hormonal triggers for the onset of a patient’s headache, however these triggers are only active when there is an increased sensitivity in the structures of the upper cervical spine.

Cervical headaches are usually described as a constant, steady, dull ache. They can be to one side or both sides and can often feel like a pulling or gripping feeling (sometimes described as a tight band around the head). These headaches are usually felt at the base of the skull and can be referred to the front of the head, to the temple area or over and behind the eyes. The headaches usually come on over a period of time, gradually getting worse, and may be present for days, weeks or even months. Sometimes there may be a history of an acute trauma such as whip-lash injury or repetitive trauma associated with work or a sporting activity.

Our Physiotherapists can thoroughly assess your neck and headaches. They will ask specific questions to rule out other causes of headaches and will then feel and assess the structures of your neck to decide what may be causing your headache. If the neck structures are involved, the physiotherapist may find;

  • Tight and painful structures in your neck (joint and muscle)
  • Pressure on specific structures of your neck which may reproduce your head pain
  • A forward head posture and stiff mid back
  • Reduced motion in the upper joints of the neck
  • Reduced endurance in the deep muscles of the neck

After correctly diagnosing the neck as the cause of headache, treatment may be quite straightforward and include; 

Postural Assessment and Advice – Education on optimal trunk posture and postural retraining (without postural correction, cervical headaches can linger for extended periods)

Mobilisation – Mobilisation of stiff joints in the neck to restore range of movement – stiffness in the jaw joints can also be problematic and should be mobilised if needed

Stretching – Stretching of the neck and shoulder muscles to help alleviate headaches

Strengthening – Cervical muscle retraining to restore the normal muscle balance

Stress and tension management – Identification and reduction of the sources of stress and tension to reduce tightness in the upper back and neck muscles

Soft tissue work and massage – Different massage and soft tissue techniques for the muscles in your neck and upper back

Dry needling – Dry needling (the placement of very thin needles into specific locations or trigger points in the body)

Workplace and ergonomic assessment – A poor chair, a desk at the wrong height or a badly placed computer may result in poor posture contributing to strain on the neck

Neural stretching – Assessing abnormal neural tension & providing stretches as needed

If you are experiencing ongoing headaches, call our practice on 9838 3030 to arrange an immediate assessment.