Neck pain is an extremely common condition which a significant proportion of the population sufferers on a daily basis. Neck pain is often associated with headaches and jaw pain.
A common cause of headaches is pain referral from the joints and muscles of the upper neck. This type of headache is called cervico-genic headache and is characterized by pain into the forehead, temples and base of the skull, often extending up into the head. Pain can also be referred along the jaw and into the ear.
Neck pain falls into 2 broad categories:- posturally-related neck pain and neck pain resulting from trauma. This latter category includes injuries such as whiplash, pain resulting from an object falling on the neck or shoulder etc. Cervico-genic headaches can occur with both types of neck pain.
Postural Neck Pain
Most of us do not realize that the joints in the neck are only about the size of your pinky fingernail. This is tiny in comparison to the size and weight of your head. When you sit with good posture the head is balanced well over the neck enabling good pain-free support for its weight. When we slump forward the neck joints are no longer in a good position to support the weight of the head. The long-term consequence of this is often neck pain and headaches.
Many workers, students and retirees spend large periods of time sitting –
- At the computer or laptop
- At the desk or table writing, sewing and reading
- In bed reading
After a small period of time (usually about 30 mins) posture tends to deteriorate and undue forces are placed through the neck. Smart phones and tablets, though compact and portable, tend to encourage very poor posture.
For Good Spinal Health we need to Move
- Take regular breaks from the computer or desk.
- Monitor your posture regularly and correct when necessary.
- An alarm on your computer or phone can help remind you.
- Perform gentle neck stretches and stability exercises throughout the day.
- See our blog for more information on correct workplace set-up.
During a whiplash injury the head is quickly flicked forward and then quickly back, or vice versa. Large sheer forces are applied through the neck and upper back resulting in:-
- Joint sprains, ligament strains and micro-tears in the muscles.
- Headaches and nausea are common.
- Other disturbances such as altered hot/cold sensation, vestibular disturbance and hypersensitivity can occur.
- Recovery time is usually longer compared with pain of non-traumatic origin.
Physiotherapy treatments for neck pain and headaches include:-
- Mobilizations to restore joint movement and reduce pain.
- Massage, trigger point therapy and dry needling to reduce muscular pain and improve flexibility.
- Stretches and postural correction.
- Advice regarding helpful activities and those to avoid.
- Advice to resolve and manage stress levels (stress is a common contributor to neck pain).
- Strengthening exercises for the neck stabilizers esp. the deep neck flexors and scapular muscles.
- Advice to ensure correct workplace set-up, driving posture and pillow height.
Jaw pain is commonly associated with neck pain and headaches, but can also occur in isolation. Causes of jaw pain include:-
- Grinding and clenching, especially at night.
- Overly tight face and jaw muscles.
- Trauma such as facial and jaw fracture.
- Poor stability of the jaw (TMJ) joints e.g. subluxation, clicking or locking.
Treatments for jaw pain include:-
- Mobilizations to restore motion in the jaw (TMJ) joint and upper neck joints.
- Release of trigger points and tight facial muscles.
- Stability exercise programmes.
- Referral for a splint or surgery may be necessary in more severe cases.