The next time you feel the onset of a headache, you might want to take note of your posture and body position. If you’re hunched over a computer or a video game, chances are you’re suffering from an increasingly common complaint known as a cervicogenic headache.
Neck Pain + Headaches = Neck Headaches
“We’re seeing more and more patients with cervicogenic headaches – more commonly known as neck headaches,” says Blair Schachterle, physical therapist and executive chair of the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Therapy (CAMT). “People are working longer hours hunched over a computer and end up going home in the evening with shooting pain in their back and neck that results in a headache. Many of us are at risk. In fact, if you spend more than 70 per cent of your time at work with your neck bent forward at 20 degrees, which is the same as reading, writing or looking down at a computer, you’re at increased risk of a neck headache.”
It’s not just adults who are suffering from neck headaches. Schachterle notes “an increase in the number of kids and young adults suffering as a result of spending hours engrossed in video games and computer usage.” These youngsters are “oblivious to their posture and the strain they’re placing on their growing bodies. It’s a trend that has increased in school-aged children since the 1990s.”
Neck headaches are certainly nothing new. What is alarming to Schachterle and his colleagues within CAMT, however, is the frequency with which they are occurring. This is, after all, the age of continuous computer usage and increased video game playing.
“One of the leading causes of neck headaches is simply bad posture,” Schachterle explains, “Imagine a person sitting at their desk, in front of their computer. As the hours pass, their posture gets worse, their head drops down, their back and shoulders roll forward, placing a lot of tension on the neck muscles. Meanwhile, those muscles are trying to fight back and keep your head in proper alignment. As a result of this tension, the person experiences increased stress and strain on the muscles and joints of the upper neck and this results in a neck headache.”
How Long Do Neck Headaches Last?
Neck headaches can sometimes last days or even months. The pain is described as a vise-like pressure across the head and, while not as severe as a migraine, can be just as debilitating in extreme cases. In contrast, migraines, psychologists note, are most likely to occur on one side of the head, particularly around the left or right eye and are exceptionally severe. The patient may suffer a series (cluster) of migraines. They are often accompanied by a hypersensitivity to light.
Physiotherapy & Neck Headaches
Fortunately, relieving the pain from a neck headache can be done without medication or invasive techniques. A physiotherapist can assess and treat a patient’s neck headache through a multi-faceted approach, including stretching of tight muscles, strengthening of weaker muscles and gentle mobilization or manipulation of the neck joints. The ideal solution is preventing neck headaches from ever happening. This is also where a physiotherapist can help by advising patients on maintaining correct posture, providing suggestions on more ergonomic workspaces, and educating them on how to properly lift and use their muscles in a way that will help them avoid such problems in the future.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
A neck headache is the most common headache and the most easily preventable,” says Schachterle. “Simple things like being aware of our posture, avoiding strenuous movements and living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise will help ensure that our daily lives don’t become a pain in the neck.”
Since headaches come in all flavors – tension, sinuous, migraine, cervicogenic and red alert to name a few – and occur from a number of causes – poor posture, psychological stress, congestion, hypertension, tumor et al., always be sure to see your family doctor. And be sure to see us – our physiotherapists can help alleviate any number of headaches.