Sore muscles can lead to migraines
It’s 3 a.m. You wake up in pain. You reach for your neck. You can barely move your head. Were you “sleeping wrong”? Was it when you twisted the wrong way while reaching into the back seat while driving? Was it the eight hours on your laptop? Playing too much “Angry Birds” on your cell phone again?
Body posture changes one of two ways: slow adaptation and fast adaptation. Slow adaptation occurs over months and years with repetitive dysfunctional posture and over time, these simple repetitive movements can lead to muscle tightness, which can take time to become symptomatic. Fast adaptation is a muscle strain that usually happens as an acute occurrence – whiplash is a great example.
Don’t let neck pain go to your head
Headaches that stem from neck pain are found mostly in people who have tightness in the posterior neck muscles (back of the neck). This is mainly brought about by a forward-headed body posture and a rounded back — the same posture you may be in as you read this article! This position causes the neck flexors (the muscles in front of your neck) to lengthen and the muscles in the back of your neck to shorten. When you combine this anterior to posterior (front to back) muscular asymmetry with misalignments in the spine that occur, people can develop what are called “cervicogenic headaches”. Your family physician may refer to them as “tension headaches” or “occipital neuralgia” if they involve specific nerves. These patients tell us “my head feels heavy” and they often point to pain that starts in the neck and radiates around to the back side, top or front of the head.
The position we spend so much time in these days (driving, computers, cell phones, housework) can put a continual strain on the occipital nerve, which is a sensory and motor nerve that runs through these now-shortened muscles. This and other structures at the base of the skull, when misaligned, get irritated and transmit pain up into the head….creating a “HEAD – ache”.
It was actually dental research in 1995 that validated the findings chiropractors have taken for granted for over one hundred years, as researchers at the University of Maryland, School of Restorative Dentistry discovered anatomical connections between muscles at the top of the neck and the dura – the pain sensitive sheath that envelops the brain and spinal cord.
Not all headaches are created equal. Variations of this pain pathway can irritate specific nerves, resulting in a migraine-type experience. Tension headaches, on the other hand, are thought by many to be a result of general muscle tension in the head and can be brought about by chronic faulty posture of the head, neck and upper posterior neck muscles or just one whopper of a stressful day!
Get your head on straight
Improving body posture can help to release this pain. Chiropractors agree with the benefits of improved posture. Chiropractors emphasize first correcting the joint dysfunction that is greatly contributing to the reflex arc perpetuating the asymmetrical muscle tone. Stretching the tight muscles along the back of your neck is important. Stretching the anterior, or front, neck muscles should be done carefully. This can be done standing, sitting or lying on your back. Focus on flattening your cervical spine as you go backwards. Stretching can be done at any stage of care, however, actual strengthening is best done after joint dysfunction and symmetrical flexibility is restored.
We want to strengthen after we’ve “straightened” this situation out.
Correcting a forward-headed body posture can actually begin at home with strengthening the abdominal region. Knowing that we are dealing with a forward-headed body posture, we know we are also dealing with forward-rolled shoulders and increased curvature of the thoracic spine. Therefore, the short muscle groups need to be stretched and the elongated muscle groups need to be strengthened (shortened). Deductive understanding can actually take a step further with gait analysis and an acknowledgement of the biomechanical chain of events that occur when the arches in your feet drop too much! (More about that in an upcoming article).
Understanding how to treat any patient begins with understanding what a person is doing to cause their problem in the first place. Furthermore, the underlying cause of the biomechanical dysfunction of neck pain generated headaches must be improved for there to be long term success without the likelihood of extensive pain medication.
Dr. Michael Schmitt at Atlas Chiropractic has been practicing in the Union County area since 1997 and has received close to 2,000 direct referrals from local medical physicians. Of those, half have been for headaches and migraines associated with neck pain.