More than 100 types of headaches have been identified, and while each of these arises from a different cause, they all tend to make life more difficult during an episode. One of the most common types of headaches is called a cervicogenic headache, which is actually more related to a problem within the neck than the head. Issues related to structures of the neck can lead to complications elsewhere as well, including vertigo and jaw pain in New York City. Fortunately, our physical therapists are trained to identify cases when the neck is responsible for these problems and can then work on designing an appropriate treatment program to address them.
Headaches can generally be classified into two groups: primary and secondary. A primary headache simply means the headache itself is the disorder, while secondary headaches result from other conditions or injuries to other areas of the body. Cervicogenic headaches are one of the most prevalent types of secondary headaches, and they account for about 15-20% of all headaches. They’re classified as secondary headaches because they occur due to a dysfunction within the neck rather than the head.
As a result, cervicogenic headaches are considered to be a form of referred pain. This means that even though the source of the pain is within the cervical region of the spine (the neck), the sensation of pain is felt in the head as a headache. The reason that neck problems lead to headaches is because there are nerves in the upper spine that have connections with certain nerves in the head. As a result, damage or dysfunction in one area can lead to symptoms in the other.
But the repercussions of a neck-related dysfunction don’t end with headaches. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge joint that connects the part of the skull directly in front of the ears (temporal bone) to the lower jaw (mandible). Since the neck, TMJ, and skull are located so closely to one another, slight variations in the way each of these areas functions can lead to problems in others. This is one reason why about 44% of patients with cervicogenic headaches also have TMJ pain, as the two can influence each other.
The muscles and joints in the neck also send signals about the position and movement of the head to the brain, which helps to keep the body balanced. But when the receptors in the neck can’t properly communicate with the brain because of neck problems, it may result in vertigo, which is a sensation that a person or the world around them is spinning.
How physical therapy can address your cervicogenic headaches, vertigo, and jaw pain in New York City
Since all of these potential issues originate in the neck, the only way to fix them is by first identifying the source of the problem and then addressing the dysfunction. This is where we come in, as our physical therapists perform a thorough evaluation during patients’ first visit to get to the root of the issue before beginning any treatments. From there, if your symptoms are found to be related to the neck, your therapist will then create a treatment program that will target any structures that may be weak or out of balance. Below are a few interventions that might be recommended for cervicogenic headaches and other similar issues:
- Manual therapy: after identifying what parts of the upper spine are dysfunctional, your therapist will move and mobilize specific muscles and joints to relieve tension and reduce symptoms
- SNAGs: sustained natural apophyseal glides, or SNAGs for short, are a type of exercise ideal for cervicogenic headache in which you’ll mimic the manual therapy performed by the therapist on your own
- Postural reeducation: since poor posture can often be a contributing factor, your therapist will help to identify if there are any aspects of your posture that are out of alignment and guide you on how to correct them
- Strengthening exercises: these exercises will focus on building up the strength of the muscles in the neck and shoulder regions to provide more support and reduce the chances of future symptoms
- Soft-tissue massage: this is another hands-on technique performed by the therapist to reduce tension and alleviate painful symptoms
- Vestibular neck exercises: these exercises are designed to improve the positioning and orientation of the head
- Vestibulo-ocular reflex exercises: for vertigo-related issues, these exercises will help improve visual tracking and coordination between head and eye movements
While there are still many unknowns when it comes to managing headaches and other problems arising from neck dysfunction, physical therapy remains an effective option that you should strongly consider. So if you’re dealing with headaches, vertigo, or TMJ pain in New York City, we’d like to help. Contact Dynamic Sports Physical Therapy at 212-317-8303 to schedule an appointment today, or click here for more information on physical therapy for cervicogenic headaches.