I get a lot of emails from patients who suffer from neck pain - and more usually than not, they also suffer from headaches. This connection between headaches and neck pain is real and is often referred to as “cervicogenic headaches”. Anatomically speaking, internal connections between cranial nerves and the muscles of the head and neck play a major role when someone suffers with neck pain and headaches. Specifically, C1, C2 and C3 nerves that exit the cervical spine go directly into the head. They innervate the muscles at the top of the neck, near the attachments of the skull. Hence any pressure put on these nerves or spinal joints will cause irritation and pain. Here are some examples of these muscles:
The semispinalis capitus muscle is innervated by nerves C1-C5- the function of this muscle is to rotate the head and pull the head backward
The Longus Capitus muscle is innervated by nerves C1-C3 and flexes the head (brings the head forward)
The Rectus Capitus Lateralis is innervated by C2 and C3- its job it is bend the head laterally
The 5th cranial nerve** called the Trigeminal nerve innervates the sensation to the face and is located in the upper neck region. Another cranial nerve, cranial nerve #2 innervates the sensation to the back of the head up to the top. Problems located in the upper neck region will often result in pain radiating up from the base of the skull/upper neck to the eyes and/or face.
The 11th cranial nerve called the spinal accessory nerve innervates two muscles called the sternocleidomastoid and the trapezius muscles, 2 muscles in the neck. The sternocleidomastoid muscle tilts and rotates the head, while the trapezius muscle has several actions on the scapula, including shoulder elevation and adduction of the scapula. Injury anywhere in the neck can cause spasm and pain in these large muscle groups.
As we can see there is definitely a connection between the muscles of the upper neck and cervical spinal nerves and cranial nerves. Understanding where your headache is coming from is important – and your exam should include a check of the neck, upper back and cranial nerves. A chiropractor will often note spinal misalignments in the upper cervical spine as well as trigger points in the upper neck muscles.
What type of treatments will help with headaches and neck pain?
Traction, or stretching of the cervical spine will help to ease pressure off of the cervical nerves. Traction can be done in the office or even using a home unit such as the pronex cervical traction unit.
Chiropractic adjustments will help to align the cervical spine, thus removing pressure to the upper cervical nerves which directly innervate the muscles of the head and upper c spine
Stretching exercises of the neck muscles will also help to decrease pain and maintain mobility in the cervical spine. These exercises should be done slowly and the stretch should be held for at least 10-15 seconds. Furthermore it is important to do strengthening exercises to prevent to make your muscles stronger and prevent recurrent headache occurrences.
Arc 4 life offers other natural headache remedies as well including:
Headache Ice Pillow - This special "u" shaped neck pillow is made specifically for headache pain sufferers and has a special compact design. This neck pillow helps to relieve headaches by providing support to your neck while sleeping or resting in a seated position.
Healthy Neck System - The Healthy Neck System was created to ease neck tension and upper back muscle spasms. It has 5 special contact points for your neck that you can use to decrease tension and reduce trigger points.
Halo Rejuventor - The HALO Rejuvenator Pain Reliever works by simply increasing the blood supply to the affected areas, strengthening the neck muscles and naturally enhancing spinal alignment. When the body senses extra weight on the head, the spine reacts in a vertical way and lengthens by as much as ½ inch. In doing so, the three curves of the spine straighten and your posture becomes more erect, which in turn relieves abnormal tension of the muscles.
The Cervical Traction Neck Pillow - The Cervical Linear Traction Neck Pillow is a great neck pillow for patients who suffer from headaches. The traction "V" side of the neck pillow will give you a gentle stretch in your cervical paraspinals, suboccipitals and upper trapezius.
** There are 12 cranial nerves- they are called “cranial” because they originate in the brain