Neck pain and headaches – What can we do about them?

Home » Physical Well-being » Neck pain and headaches – What can we do about them?

Although there are many causes of headaches, issues related to the upper cervical spine, known as the upper neck, can have a role to play in certain headaches more commonly known as “tension” headaches. These headaches can originate from changes to the tone in the muscles in the upper neck such as increased muscle activity. It will be typically felt more on one side of the head and may commence as a dull discomfort in the neck. The pain can then refer to the top of the head, over the eyebrow or behind the eye. However, with regards to all headaches there are also many other factors which can strongly influence the strength and frequency of the pain.

These include:

  • Poor quality of sleep
  • Feeling run down
  • An increase in stress associated with work, family, relationships or financial pressures
  • A lack of exercise or a change in lifestyle habits

What is also common held belief is that poor posture is very closely related to and neck pain and headaches. Although this is a common held belief in our society, research continues to draw weak relationships between posture and pain in this area (Richards et al, 2016). Why? I firmly believe that we need a “soup” of factors contributing to neck related headaches. If sitting down at a computer all day is compounded with additional  “load” such as stress, poor sleep and feeling run down, the risk of developing pain in this area can be elevated. Posture is still a factor, but maybe not as big as what we think.

So what can we do once we have a headaches originating from the neck?

Pain in this area will generally resolve in anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks with simple management strategies.

These can include:

  • Hands on therapy to muscles in the neck can ease tension and relax the area.
  • Gentle movements of the neck without any vigorous stretching. Keeping the neck stiff and limiting its movement is not recommended and can lead to over protective behaviours and physical guarding of the area.
  • Address quality of sleep or sleeping patterns if needed.
  • Change posture every 20-30mins if on computer all day. Get up and walk around the office or gently move neck side to side.
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques into your day such as mindful breathing exercises or taking a walk in a quiet area.
  • Exercise more. It has been shown to be beneficial for muscle heath but it also helps relieve stress levels and improves mood.

Headaches are one of the most disabling pains that we can experience. The quicker we can address what is causing this pain and apply simple management strategies, the faster the pain will resolve.

Chris is a passionate physio who has an interest in spinal pain, especially those which are complex and persistent in nature. He is available Tuesdays call: 0419 949 044


Richards K, Beales D, Smith A et al (2016) Neck posture and their association with biopsychosocial factors and neck pain in Australian adolescents. Journal of Physical Therapy. 96(10) 1576-1587



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