The Headache Checkup from the Neck Up!

Neck Pain Goes Along with Headaches

People with migraines had neck pain in 40% of the cases, according to a study by Leslie Kelman of 1,283 migraineurs. In my practice, I find that in many cases the neck pain and stiffness will come on before the migraine and tension headache hits. Is there are way for you as a headache sufferer to use that information?

Check on Your Neck Turning!

How freely does your neck turn, or rotate? Many people I see initially for headache treatments have restricted neck turning. You do not realize that your neck turning is not normal for your peer group. Consequently, your neck turning may have dropped off from the normal and you have accepted your current abnormal motion as normal.

However, you may indeed realize that your neck turning is not normal. Therefore, you have seen various healthcare professionals to help you restore normal neck motion. Unfortunately, the carryover of treatment will eventually wear off if you can’t keep your neck loose.

There is another gentle technique you may like, described in my book, which may help you if your neck is very sensitive.

Magazine Movement

You may have had a car accident or other trauma that makes it hard for you to turn your neck. With your doctor’s okay, you may find that the following technique helps you turn further than you have been able to for some time.

Place a magazine with a glossy surface behind your neck. Turn your head left and right. The glossy surface may help you to slide the back of your head into a turning motion without friction impeding your turning motion.

Make sure you do a purely turning motion as in the picture. Do not side bend the neck or place it into an uncomfortable torqued position. As always, you should have no pain with this or any other neck techniques.

Maintain Your Gains

Once your neck turns normally, check several times a day to make sure that your neck has not stiffened up. Usually, a gentle five to ten second turn to the right and left will tell you whether your neck is at its normal range.

If your neck is not turning to your full capability, look out! Headache may be oncoming! Do these quick checks two, three, four times a day to see what how fluidly your neck can turn.

If you are in the throes of a headache episode, your neck will want to seize up. You may need to check your neck motion frequently. Your neck may stiffen up in a matter of minutes if your headache episode is tormenting you.

Do Not Wait Till it is Too Late!

Too many people with headaches ignore the early signs of their headaches. They wait till the headache has become ingrained, and then they attempt to take corrective action.

But it is much harder to get your headache under control if you have waited too long.  Think of the problem as that you have let the cows get out of the barn before you tried to close the barn doors. Farm analogies aren’t used as much in popular culture, but this one is apt.

Take action to stretch your neck when you feel the first sign of a headache! See how you neck is turning. Stretch out the neck muscles using the numerous techniques you have seen in the other blogs and headache book.

Why is it Important to Stretch Out my Neck?

When your neck becomes tight, it is a sign that one or more of your headache muscles is clamping down. Your physical therapist can help you identify exactly which of these muscles are your culprits.

Likely headache troublemakers are the sternocleidomastoid along the side of the neck, the occipitals in the back of the neck, the upper trapezius muscle that straddles the upper shoulder, and the levator scapulae that starts in your shoulder blade and inserts in the upper reaches of your neck. Realize that if any of these muscles become stiff, they can restrict your neck turning.

These muscles are the ones most commonly responsible for many headaches. They will often become tight and tender if you have a headache. Do not let them stiffen up to that point!

Be Very, Very Careful about Doing Forcible Neck Motion!

When people have a stiff neck, they may turn to treatments that involve sudden jerking movements to free up the neck motion restriction. Regrettably, there are numerous risks involved in this type of treatment. Look at the numerous references in Chapter 2 of my book that detail these risks and you will think twice about utilizing this type of treatment.

After taking coursework on treating the neck with these rapid movements to the neck, I personally long since decided to abandon this treatment approach in favor of more gentle treatments. These self-help treatments avoid the hazards involved with the more aggressive forcible neck treatments.

Self-Help is the Best Help!

You have many options for keeping your neck loose and turning freely. However, you may need your health practitioner to help you figure out which tissues are stopping your neck from moving properly.

Once you do that, use the muscle and acupressure techniques you find in these blogs and headache book to interrupt your headache cycle. Remember, your healthcare provider may not be available at the unpredictable time your headache wants to strike. But you are always available to yourself, and a little knowledge can go a long way to managing your headaches.

You cannot always stop life stressors, perfumes, bright light, food sensitivities and other triggers from producing your headache. However, you can limit the degree of affliction the headaches bring to you. Persistent, steady management can both shorten the time and decrease the intensity of your headache episodes!



-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer.

-Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.

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