Do you suffer from chronic headaches? Maybe it’s a daily issue, maybe once a week, maybe even less often, but one thing’s for sure—when a chronic headache kicks in, it can be a real pain in the neck, literally. In order to effectively address chronic headaches, you have to first determine if the pain is caused by a problem in your neck. Let’s take a look at a few neck issues that can cause headaches.
Weak Neck Muscles
The head, on average, weighs about ten pounds, so when the neck muscles are weak, it can make your head feel a bit like a bowling ball that your neck can’t quite balance. There are many muscles that, along with the cervical spine, work together to help support the neck and aid movement. The neck muscles that most commonly become weak and cause headaches include the deep neck flexors. These stretch vertically along either side of the front of the cervical spine. Weakness in any of the neck muscles, however, can create stress on the cervical discs, tendons, and facet joints, increasing the chances of chronic headaches.
Additionally, poor posture can weaken neck muscles and the muscles and tendons that attach to the skull at the back of the head. This can lead tendon problems (e.g., degeneration, tears), further lessening their ability to help support the head, leading to more headaches. There are many things that define poor posture, but perhaps in our modern world today, the most common is being constantly hunched over our electronic devices.
Muscle spasms can not only weaken the neck muscles, but the spasms themselves can actually tug at the dura, the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord, which in and of itself can lead to headaches. If you don’t treat what’s causing the spasms, the headaches are destined to continue.
Finally, muscles may be weakened when trigger points in the muscle tighten, shooting pain to the head—this is called referred pain.
Irritated Neck Nerves
There are nerves that live along the back of the head, and when these become irritated in some way, headaches can result. If the nerve irritation is left unaddressed, headaches will continue to flare. There are a number of things that can irritate the occipital nerves, the nerves that most commonly lead to headaches. These include poor posture (discussed above), the loss of the cervical lordosis (the curve in the neck), neck instability, and so on.
Loss of the Cervical Lordosis
Your neck should have a gentle inward C-shaped curve—this curve is called cervical lordosis. This curve works with other gentle counter-curves in the spine to evenly distribute the weight of your head between the cervical discs in the front of the neck and the facet joints in the back. When you lose or straighten your cervical lordosis, the neck muscles at back of the skull can get irritated. A normal neck curve is important, and without it, nerve irritation and headaches are bound to follow. They key to treating headaches caused by a loss of the cervical lordosis is to address the straightening of the neck curve.
Neck Ligament Instability
Neck ligaments work with the muscles, tendons, and spine to facilitate proper movement and provide support. When this is out of whack, it may lead to chronic headaches. When ligaments overstretch or become injured this creates instability, and the nerves and spine, which rely on them for support can also become irritated. In addition, the muscles will step up to try to do the job of the ligaments, causing the muscles to become overworked as well. Neck instability can be easily diagnosed DMX technology, a video X-ray taken as the neck is in motion.
Trauma, such as a car accident, and wear-and-tear degeneration with aging can cause neck ligament instability. Headaches are a common effect of neck ligament instability, either due to the instability or the problems in other neck structures created by the instability.
Neck Joint Injury
Injuries to the neck can occur from a variety of accidents, such as car crashes, falls, sports injuries, and so on. Facet joints in the neck live at the back of the cervical spine, and injuries to the neck can damage these joints. When these joints are injured, particularly the upper cervical joints, C0–C3, this can lead to chronic headaches from the atlanto-occipital joint. You may have fallen and not even realized you injured your neck joints, but if chronic headaches have suddenly set in, it’s a good idea to have your neck joints examined. Arthritis in the neck joints can also cause headaches.
If your chronic headache pain is due to a problem in your neck, just popping a few pain pills isn’t going to stop your headaches from coming back. The only way to treat chronic headache pain due to the issues we discussed above is to treat the neck. Later this week, we’ll discuss several treatments for the neck issues above that may be able to address your chronic headaches.
Atlantoaxial Instability (AAI)
Instability simply means that bones move around too much, usually due to damaged ligaments. In the spine, this can cause nerves to get banged into and joints to get damaged. In the craniocervical junction, instability can cause the upper cervical spinal nerves to get irritated, leading to headaches. In addition, the C0-C1 and C1-C2 facet joints can also get damaged. In addition, there are other nerves that exit the skull here that can get irritated, like the vagus nerve, which can cause rapid heart rate. What’s the Difference Between CCI and AAI? CCI refers to instability in any part of the craniocervical junction…
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Cervical Medullary Syndrome
Cervical Medullary Syndrome is a clinical condition that occurs as a result of inflammation, deformity, or compression of the lower part of the brain. Symptoms can be extensive with fluctuating severity based upon the extent of the underlying injury. For example, mild irritation of the brainstem may cause only mild, intermittent symptoms. The upper cervical spine and brain are complex with multiple structures. These structures reside within the skull and protective confines of the cervical spine. Neither expands to accommodate inflammation, injury, and disease. Rather the delicate tissues of the brain and spinal cord are irritated or compressed. The 4 major conditions that cause cervical medullary syndrome are…
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Chiari Malformation Is a medical condition where a part of the brain at the back of the skull abnormally descends through an opening in the skull. It is named after Dr. Hans Chiari who was an Austrian pathologist who in the late 1880’s studied deformities of the brain.The brain is a large structure divided into different parts that reside within the skull. Important parts of the brain called the Cerebellum and Brainstem sit at the base of the skull. The Foramen Magnum is a large hole at the base of the skull that allows the brain to join the spinal canal. The Cerebellum…
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Craniocervical Instability is a medical condition characterized by injury and instability of the ligaments that hold your head onto the neck. Common symptoms of Cranial Cervical Instability include a painful, heavy head, headache, rapid heart rate, brain fog, neck pain, visual problems, dizziness, and chronic fatigue.CCI or neck ligament laxity treatment options depend upon the severity of the instability and clinical symptoms. When appropriate, conservative care should always be the first-line treatment.
Craniocervical Instability Surgery is often recommended when conservative care fails. This involves a fusion of the head to the neck which is a major surgery that is associated with significant risks and complications…
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EDS in Children
Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) refers to a group of disorders that affect the body’s connective tissue including skin, tendons, and ligaments. It is a hereditary disorder which means you are born with it. EDS has many different signs and symptoms which can vary significantly from patient to patient. It most commonly affects the skin, joints, and blood vessels. The estimated prevalence for all EDS varies between 1/10,000 and 1/25,000. The three most common types of EDS are: Hypermobile, Classic, and Vascular. We have used these skills and knowledge to treat the loose ligaments commonly found in EDS in children. Treatment options include bone marrow concentrate (BMC) and PRP.
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Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS)
isorders that affect and weaken the connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments. It is a hereditary disorder which means you are born with it. EDS has many different signs and symptoms which can vary significantly depending upon the type of EDS and its severity. It most commonly affects the skin, joints, and blood vessels. Joints are typically hypermobile with excessive joint range of motion because of a defect in collagen formation. In most cases Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is inherited. That is to say that you are born with it. The two main ways EDS is inherited are: autosomal dominant inheritance and autosomal recessive inheritance…
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Loss of Cervical Lordosis
Normal neck curve? All of us, at one time or another, have probably been told to stand or sit up straight. The primary structure that allows us to follow that wise advice and demonstrate good posture is our spine. Likewise, when our posture is poor, this puts strain and pressure on the spine and supporting structures and can create problems down the road.
This emphasis on a straight posture may, understandably, make you envision your spine, which stretches from the base of your skull all the way down to your pelvis, as straight. However, if you could stand sideways in front of a mirror and see all the way through to the spine, a normal spine would have three gentle counterbalancing curves. If there is too much curve at any point or not enough, this can be a problem.
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The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint connection between your jaw and your skull. If you run your fingers along either side of your jaw line toward your ears, you can actually feel where the jaw bone ends and the skull bone begins. If you open and close your mouth, the difference between the two is dramatic as the jaw bone moves, thanks to the TMJ joint, while the skull bone remains stable. The TMJ and any of its surrounding structures can become painful and inflamed, and this can become so bad that it can prevent patients from even being able to move their jaw bone to chew.
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