Headaches and Physiotherapy

May 13, 2020

Headaches are a common problem we see at the clinic, which is not surprising when it is estimated that up to 10 million people in the UK have suffered headache symptoms, making it one of the most common health complaints seen by doctors. With 10 million cases spread over the UK, you can see that even in the Alfreton area many thousands of people are likely to be suffering from headaches. We’ve managed to help many people, but it’s still a fact that many people are unaware that physiotherapy can often help headaches.

A particular type of headache that physiotherapy can help with is called a “cervicogenic” headache, and this blog will detail how physiotherapy can help this type of headache.

What is a headache?

We’ve all probably suffered a headache at some point and so we probably think we know what a headache is, but just to clarify; a headache is a pain that occurs in the head and/ or upper neck area. It can affect the entire area or be focused on  smaller areas such as behind the eyes or temples.
Headaches can be divided into 2 main types:

  • Primary Headaches: Headaches that are related to disorders in the brain or head and are not caused by a cause elsewhere. Examples of this type of headache are cluster headaches, tension headaches and migraine.
  • Secondary Headaches: Headaches which are caused by something else such as high blood pressure, inflamatory disorders or injuries to the head and neck. Cervicogenic headaches are classed as secondary headaches as they are caused by a mechanical issue within the neck and this is why they will often improve with physiotherapy.


How do I know if my headache is coming from my neck?

Cervicogenic headaches are usually characterised by pain that is referred to the head from the cervical spine (the neck region). It is thought that pain from the upper
cervical joints and surrounding muscles can often refer pain into the head. Although the source of the problem is the neck, we often feel the majority of the pain in the head itself. This phenomenon is called referred pain and occurs elsewhere in the body aswell ( e.g .leg pain coming from the lower back and arm pain coming from the shoulder.

One common cause of cervicogenic headaches is poor sitting posture particularly when sitting in front of a computer, or even more common is prolonged laptop use.

A history of  whiplash injury or other neck trauma can also be a common cause, as can “wear and tear” type changes of the neck. Muscle tension or weakness can also be a factor.
A skilled physiotherapy assessment can determine if your headaches may be related to your neck and could then therefore be helped with physiotherapy. The physiotherapist will need to ask you several questions regarding the location, frequency, duration and severity of your symptoms and whether any investigations have already been undertaken. Its also important to establish whether physical positions or activities can either aggravate or ease the symptoms.

Physical testing of the neck will then be undertaken to establish whether there are any restrictions to normal neck movement, whether the surrounding muscles are too tight or weak and whether the headache can be reproduced by localised testing of the upper cervical joints.

How can physiotherapy help?

Following a detailed assessment, if it has been established that your neck could be a source of your headache symptoms our highly experienced physiotherapists will treat you with a combination of the following techniques depending on your individual issues:


Manual Therapy


Postural Correction / Improvement

Work Station Assessment

 Tim's Top Tip

Headache and migraine are very rewarding to treat, as we  can often manage to achieve life changing results. Only those who suffer with headaches on a daily basis can appreciate how great life can be when the pain has gone. 


Can’t I just take medication?

If there is an underlying issue with your neck that is causing your headaches, it’s unlikely that medication will provide a long term solution, although there is no doubt that it can provide short term relief. One of the problems with medication for headaches is that long term use can actually cause headaches itself and may even be the third most common cause of headaches! By taking medication long term your body becomes used to the effect of the drug and it will often become less effective.

We can determine the likely cause of your headaches and advise as to whether physiotherapy treatment may be of benefit to you.

What Can I do to help myself?

Try and maintain a good sitting posture and if you have a deskbound job, try and keep changing position by standing, moving and steretching.

Limit your use of laptops. If you have to use a laptop for work, consider the use of a laptop stand, wireless keyboard and mouse to improve your neck posture.

Ask your employer to provide a workstation assessment. This is a service we provide at Alfreton Physiotherapy and have already visited many local employers to help improve the working positions of head and neck pain sufferers.

Avoid getting overtired

Keep well hydrated during the day

Exercise regularly

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