The head is a large and heavy part of a person. In a child, the head can account for a quarter of their total weight. In the adult, the head weighs 10-14 pounds (about 4.5-6.3 kg), and this load has to be balanced by the strength of the neck muscles. In normal upright posture, there is a forward curve to the neck, and this curve provides the perfect balance between strength and mobility. Unfortunately, this curve can be disrupted by whiplash and other traumas that damage the delicate ligaments and disks.
When a person bends their head forward to read or type, the neck begins to straighten and the weight of the head must be countered by the pull of the muscles at the back of the neck. If the person does this all day—because they work at a computer, for example—then the muscles never get a break. Knots, tightness, or spasm of the muscles will increase and cause a neck ache. The person may feel a tightness or pain around the head because the muscles pull at the base of the skull. These are the symptoms of what is called a tension-type headache.
Usually, the shoulder muscles are also involved and tight. Over time this forward head posture can become more permanent and a “round back” may also develop. In addition to contributing to a bad appearance, poor posture causes the spinal cord and nerves to become stretched and painful. Poor posture may also cause the spine to prematurely deteriorate, called degeneration, which results in thin disks. Forward head posture and abnormal cervical curvature can be diagnosed by x-ray and by observing the patient from the side.
Although over-the-counter and prescription medication may block the pain and provide temporary relief, they don’t necessarily address the cause of a patient’s pain and long-term use may be associated with unwanted side effects.
There are other causes for tension-type headaches and the ‘heavy” feeling of the head. Certain rare diseases and high blood pressure can also make the head hurt. This is why it is important to have the cause of your problem properly diagnosed. If the cause is musculoskeletal in nature, your doctor of chiropractic may use a combination of spinal manipulation, mobilization, exercises, workspace modifications, and even dietary recommendations to reduce pain and improve function so that you can carry out your everyday work and life responsibilities. However, if a more serious cause is suspected, then your chiropractor may refer you to a specialist for further testing.
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