Neck pain is one of the most common complaints for which patients present to chiropractic offices. Headaches are also another very common problem and often go hand-in-hand with the presence of neck pain. So, the question that is frequently asked is, “…why do headaches and neck pain often occur together?”
There are many types of headaches, some of which we have discussed previously with migraine and tension-type headaches being the most common. This month, the focus is on how headaches and the neck are related to each other and what YOU can do about it.
The relationship between neck pain and headaches is strong! In fact, in some cases, headaches will occur ONLY when the neck hurts. One reason is because the first three nerves that exit out from the top of the cervical spine (C1, C2, and C3) have to travel through the thick group of muscles that insert onto the back/base of the skull along the occipital rim. Because we carry a lot of stress in the neck muscles, when they tighten up, they squeeze or pinch those 3 nerves and pain then radiates into the back of the head and sometimes up and over the vertex to the eyes or behind the eyes. If you take your fingers or thumb and push firmly into those muscles at the very top of the neck or base of the skull, it often feels, “…like a good hurt.” This is because they are usually tight since most of us carry our head too far forwards and the muscles have to contract and constantly work to keep the head from gliding even further.
So, what can YOU do about it? Let’s talk about a few GREAT posture retraining exercises. Tuck in your chin to the point where the voice changes pitch (your voice will start to sound “funny”). At that point, release the chin slightly so the voice clears and stay in position! That is the posture or head position of choice. Initially, it will be very difficult to remember to hold that position for very long because your muscles (and brain) aren’t used to it and you’ll slip back into the old forward head carriage habit or chin poke position. So, be patient with yourself because it takes about 3 months of constant self-reminding to, “…keep that chin tucked” before this new “habit pattern” is formed in the brain.
Another great exercise is an “offshoot” of this, where you tuck the chin in as far as you can (making a double or triple chin) holding that position for 3 seconds, and then tip the head back as far as you can without releasing the chin tuck and hold for another 3 seconds. Repeat this 2-3x / “set” and perform this multiple times per day.
A third great exercise for improving the forward head carriage posture is performed by lying on your back on a bed so that the edge of the bed is at the middle of the neck and head is dangling off the bed. Take a tightly rolled up towel (a hand-sized towel works well) and place it under the neck so that is resting on the edge of the bed so that your head can fall back towards the floor. Take deep breaths and concentrate on relaxing all your neck muscles. Periodically, slowly rotate your head left to right, right to left, and “feel” the different muscles stretch as you do this. If you can afford 15 minutes, that’s PERFECT! But, if you only have a few minutes, it’s still GREAT!
Between maintaining a chin tuck upright posture and retraining the curve in your neck with the head hang off the bed exercise, you’ll feel (and look) much better!