Self Checks For Headache and Neck Pain
If you are just joining us, we are working our way through how Technology impacts our bodies, and specifically this week we are going to look at some easy self checks to see if your headache and neck pain may be coming from things like phones and computers, etc. . Some bullet points from last weeks article that introduced the topic: There is one main nerve "relay" center called the Trigeminal Nucleus that almost all neck pain, jaw pain and headaches run through This relay center gets a tremendous amount of information from all the structures that are connected to the nerves in the upper neck and TMJ joint. This includes muscles, ligaments and joints of the shoulders, neck, face and jaw. Technology posture usually results in the head being bent down and forward, the shoulders rolling in and the jaw being pulled back, all things that put tension on the muscles, ligaments and joints of the head and neck, and ultimately fire off the Trigeminal Nucleus causing neck and headache pain!
Most of the time, coming up with a diagnosis for health conditions starts with symptoms. They are the clues that when combined with specific physical examination findings will in all likelihood point you to a proper diagnosis and then treatment plan. Cervicogenic neck and headache pain has a specific set of symptoms, we will review those in just a minute. The nice thing about cervicogenic headache and neck pain is that while painful and debilitating, it is not life threatening. There are headaches that are associated with life threatening situations. They usually (all though not always) carry a specific symptom presentation as well. Headache Symptoms that require immediate medical attention (don't wait, go now!) include the following: sudden, very intense headache pain (thunderclap headache) severe or sharp headache pain for the first time. a stiff neck and fever. headache with a fever higher than 102 to 104°F. headache with nausea and vomiting. (especially if you have no history of these in the past) Headaches associated with a nosebleed. Headaches associated with fainting. Headaches associated with dizziness or loss of balance. If you are having any of these symptoms associated with your headache, don't wait go get checked immediately. The discussion of the possible causes of this type of headache pain is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say it isn't related to technology or your posture and may represent a life-threatening condition that just happens to have a headache associated with it! The good news is these are rare and if treated appropriately in a timely manner can have an excellent outcome.
Back to the topic at hand !
Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headache a reduced range of motion in the neck. pain on one side of the face or head. pain and stiffness of the neck. pain around the eyes. pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm on one side. head pain that is triggered by certain neck movements or positions. sensitivity to light and noise. nausea. If you have one or more of these symptoms you may in fact be dealing with cervicogenic headaches and neck pain, very likely associated with posture issues.
In health care signs are physical findings that something is wrong. Sometimes they are general, like a red, inflamed throat. This could be caused by a bacteria like Strep, a virus, acid reflux or maybe tonsillitis. Some signs are fairly specific, like pain in the lower right abdomen when you push on it. This is often times (all though not always) an indicator that you may have appendicitis. Usually a physician will look for a grouping of signs that typically point to a single cause. This combined with the symptoms a patient presents with can lead to the problem area, and hopefully a helpful solution.
While not all headaches and neck pain come from the postures of technology, almost all neck pain and headaches related to technology will be generated in the neck and jaw. We covered the Jaw thoroughly in the last block of articles, if you missed them you can catch up on our website. In order for neck pain and headache to be coming from the spine several signs need to be present. We are going to look at the top three:
Limited Range of Motion Abnormal Posture Pain with Pressure Ironically, we can actually be using technology to look at the first two, and good old fashion elbow grease to look at the last one.
Neck Range Of Motion
You can actually do this one without technology, but it is kind of fun to use the camera on your phone!
Stand facing the mirror. While looking straight ahead let your head bend to the right (lower your right ear to your right shoulder) as far as it will go, do not pull your shoulder up to meet it! Repeat this on the left side. Note if you feel any difference from side to side (tightness, pain) and estimate if one side goes farther than the other.
Repeat the same steps as number one above, only this time when you have bent your head as far as it will go, turn your head to the same side as you are bending and look as far as you can over your shoulder. Repeat this on opposite side. Note if you feel any difference from side to side (tightness, pain) and estimate if one side goes farther than the other.
Again while looking straight ahead let your head bend to one side as far as it can go. This time when it is at the bottom, turn up and look at the ceiling towards the opposite side shoulder. Note if you feel any difference from side to side (tightness, pain) and estimate if one side goes farther than the other.
If you have s friend of family member around, instead of looking in a mirror, have them video tape your movements. If you have a slow motion feature, use that. Often times the camera can pick up differences you might not catch trying to look in the mirror, and you may see some involuntary grimaces if your neck meets a sticking point.
Normal: Equal and relatively pain free movement on both sides. Minimal tightness except at the very end ranges of motion.
Checking Front and Back Posture
Like range of motion you can do this one without technology, but it can really help you get a full picture of what may be going on in your neck and head.
Stand facing the mirror. While looking straight ahead, look at the following points: Shoulder Height should be close to the same, not one drawn up higher than the other Head should be centered over the middle not slid to one side or the other Head should not tilt to one side or the other, this is easy to see if one ear appears lower than the other side
Have a friend or family member stand 90 degrees to you as you look straight ahead. Nod your head a few times up and down and then stop when you are looking straight ahead, relaxed. Have your friend or family member look for the following: Is your ear centered squarely over your shoulder or shifted forward ? Does and imaginary line between your eye and ear tilt excessively up or down ? Do you appear to have an excessive hunch back or rounded shoulders ? Have your friend or family member take a picture in each of the positions listed above. Compare the picture you see to how you "feel" like you stand. Often you will find quite a discrepancy !
Normal: We are designed to be squared up. Everyone is a little off, but if you find your head is tilted or rotated quite a bit one direction, if the suspicions you had about the hump in your upper back getting worse are realized when you see a picture you might have a problem. These types of posture issues can drive neck pain and headache.
Pain With Pressure
No technology needed on this one, just your fingers and or a friends elbow!
Sit on a solid low back chair (kitchen chair, not the couch). Reach across with your right hand to your left neck and shoulder (half way between the neck and top of the actual shoulder). Dig around with your finger tips for a few seconds looking for any knots. If you find one continue to push for 15-20 seconds, note any pain, especially if it seems to travel. Repeat on the opposite side. Note any difference from side to side.
In the same manner as number one above, move your fingers up to the base of your skull, just below the hairline. Slightly tilt your head to the side you are checking (if you are checking the left side you will be using your right finger tips, and tilting your head slightly to the left. If you find one continue to push for 15-20 seconds, note any pain, especially if it seems to travel. Repeat on the opposite side. Note any difference from side to side.
If you have a buddy around you can have them apply the pressure in steps one and two above for you (make sure they aren't mad at you and will back off when you say to !). Use an elbow for the lower neck and finger tips for the upper section.
Normal: Everyone is going to have some soreness in these areas. If yours is excessive, especially on one side, and if you get pain traveling away from the area being tested this would be a good indication these areas are involved in causing you neck pain and headaches, and if they aren't currently they probably are getting ready to!
Is Some Of This Adding Up ?
If you have gone through the signs and symptoms of Cervicogenic Headache and Neck Pain, and you really don't see yourself anywhere, GOOD DEAL ! If you find that you have some (or all) of the signals outlined above, DON'T LOSE HOPE ! Next week we are going to cover how you can address a lot of these concerns on your own. While we definitely recommend addressing these things for those that have problems, we also encourage people that don't have any current issues to integrate the corrective strategies for this very common condition, it sure won't hurt, and you may very well prevent issues from developing in the future!
Yours in Health,