Headaches are one of the most common and debilitating complaints I get in my office. Patients' headaches range from the relatively straight-forward 'tension headache' to the more complicated 'migraine headache'. Surprisingly, and even though headaches are so commonplace, patients generally know little about how to actually manage their own neck posture or how to reduce a headache in progress.
1) Prevention is KEY!
Poor neck posture is an important aspect of why people get headaches. Unfortunately, many office jobs can aggravate neck pain to the point of causing a headache. If you do work in an office environment, then you can try some of these simple tips. Check the height of your monitor and make sure that it is at eye level. Keyboard trays should also be at a level that lets your arms rest comfortably not up too high or down too low. Finally, sitting for too long can also aggravate the neck, so try to get up and stretch for 5 minutes, every 20 minutes you spend seated.
2) Tension Headaches vs. Migraines: What's the Difference?
Most common headaches fall into two main categories: the tension and the migraine headache. The main difference between the two is that migraines are the result of constricted blood arteries which deliver blood to the brain itself. Reducing that blood flow ends up in a much more severe headache than the tension headache alone. Also, migraine headaches start through 'triggers' such as certain foods like chocolate and oranges or bright lights and sounds, whereas tension headaches are not.
While the tension headache has none of the vascular components of the migraine, it presents as a 'band' around your head almost 'pulling' at the sides of your eyes. Most of the pain itself starts from the back of the neck though and travels to the temples on both sides. Migraines can also present with these symptoms but are always much more severe.
A proper assessment at the chiropractor's office will help to determine which type of headache is affecting you!
3) Simple Stretches for that Crick in Your Neck!
These exercises can be done either sitting or standing but are great in getting rid of neck pain and headaches. I generally prefer the seated version as it can be more effective. While sitting on your left or right hand, sit up straight and look directly ahead with your head level. With your other hand, reach up and over and pull your head to the opposite side until you feel a gentle stretch. In the standing version of this exercise, you would simply put your hand behind your back. If you feel any pain, you are pulling too hard! Ease back until you no longer feel the discomfort. Count five seconds for each stretch, ten stretches per side, taking a break in between each set and repeat. Always bring your head back to the starting position.
The second exercise is exactly as the first except, you turn your head away from the side that you are sitting on. This time you pull down, feeling the stretch in the back of your neck, working different muscles. Once again, NEVER pull to the point of pain as you may aggravate any neck pain you are currently experiencing or even give yourself a headache. Bring your head back to the starting position after each stretch. Repeat the same number of stretches for this exercise as per the previous and you're done!
Try these exercises, two times per day minimum but they are so simple and effective that they can be done anywhere at anytime. Just remember to never overdo them, and if you have any questions about these exercises, don't hesitate to ask your chiropractor to show you how to do them safely and properly.
4) Take Care of Yourself!
A trip to the chiropractor or physiotherapist is always a good idea at least every six months as a precaution, even if you don't have any neck pain. However, many patients don't regard problems with the spine as being serious until they experience pain that doesn't get better. While I don't mind to see patients in an emergency situation, preventing the pain from getting to that point is always the best option. A chiropractic adjustment, some manual therapy or even some electrical muscle stimulation or ultrasound is sometimes needed to reduce or even get rid of the pain all together, and in most cases can be achieved after just a few visits.
Make an appointment with your physiotherapist or chiropractor and get assessed. Your relief from persistent neck and headache pain may just be a few visits away!