Two Self-Tests & 5 Signs Your Headache is Coming from Your Neck. Plus, Possible Causes.

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in March of 2021. For the original video go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qyt3atb8wXw&t=181s.

Bob: Today we’re going to show you two self-tests and five signs that your headache is coming from your neck. We’re also going to show you some possible causes of why you’re getting that headache.


Brad: One thing that gets overlooked sometimes.


Bob: This is a specific type of headache, it’s coming from the neck. It’s called Cervicogenic. Cervico mean cervical or neck and genic means it’s the source of pain.


Brad: Location and origin.


Bob: It’s caused by problems with the nerves or the bones and the muscle of the neck. I’m not going to get any more specific than that.


Brad: It’s upper neck.

Bob: Yeah, quite often. Quite often it’s C1 and C2. All the bones of the neck are numbered from one to seven. Number one and number two are up against the skull. One of the signs that it could be coming from your neck is, it spreads from the back of your head and comes around and right up into the eye or below the eye. They call it a ram’s horn headache.


Brad: Just like the football team, if you look at their helmet, that’s kind of the pattern that it makes.


Bob: Good point. What did your brother-in-law call it?


Brad: After a car accident, he would get these headaches that wrapped around, and he called it a full wrap. I don’t know if he made that up or his physician that he worked with or whatever, but it makes sense. It sounds right.


Bob: Yeah, it sounds right. It can be one or both sides. I see more often one side, but it could occur on both. The other sign is if you have a stiff neck, decreased motion, and you’re getting headaches, that’s a possibility. These are all things you want to thing about. If you have increased head pain or headaches, when you cough or sneeze or take a deep breath, that could possibly be your neck because that’s what’s moving when you do those things. The head doesn’t always hurt if you move it. It just hurts all the time. A headache that begins or is worsened by certain neck movements or postures is a good example. For me, if I have a head forward posture for a long time, which I did when I used to wear my glasses. I didn’t have the glasses made for it. I had the bifocals. I was wearing bifocals and I had to lean forward to see the screen and I started getting headaches. So, I got glasses made just for reading a computer.


Brad: Right, so you can sit with proper posture.


Bob: Pain that’s felt at the top of the neck or at the base and the lower part of the skull. Especially if it goes up into the head, that’s a good sign that it’s from the cervical spine. Cervicogenic headaches can also cause symptoms like migraines. I never knew this, Brad. So, I always assumed when people said I have light sensitivity or noise sensitivity, I thought "oh, you’ve got a migraine." It’s not always the case and even blurry vision can be caused by a cervicogenic headache. You want to keep that in mind. So, we’ve got two self-tests here. The first one is, do a chin tuck and rotate one direction and then rotate in the other direction. You could set up your camera on your phone and film yourself doing this, or you could have a friend looking at you. What you want to see is if one is kind of restricted or greatly restricted, and that’s the side you’re having headaches on, it’s possible that restriction is causing the pain.

Brad: Sure, just a tight muscle that is limiting that motion is associated directly with that headache.


Bob: Yeah, and we’ll show you how to treat that in another video.


Brad: They can self-treat it. It’s not that difficult.


Bob: The second self-test you could do is start palpating or pressing along the upper neck. Right in the suboccipital area.

Bob: Often, I’ll find tenderness right there, right over the greater occipital nerve where it comes out. The other possibility is sometimes you can get pain if your shoulder blades are out of whack a little bit. Let’s say they’re descended too far. Not uncommon at all, especially if you use a mouse with one arm continually and it stretches out the muscles and that stretches the levator scapulae.


Brad: That’s quite a name, the levator scapulae. I used to call it the levator scapulator, but that’s not correct. It connects from the shoulder blade to the upper cervical vertebra. It is a small muscle, it’s not very thick, but it can knot up a little bit or if the scapulae are decentered or rotated, it makes that muscle tight. It can irritate it and cause that pain.

Bob: It’ll send pain right up into your head even. The thing about this, you can find your shoulder blade, if you’re able to reach back there, you can stick it out, but on the inside of it and follow your hand up and you should be able to palpate along there.


Brad: You could start at the top and work down too. It’s best if you can get someone else to do this.


Bob: Yeah, you’re correct, Brad. You’re correct. If you find a real tender spot along that muscle, you’re going to want to watch some of our other videos and do exercises that get the shoulder blades to rise or get in the right position. Even more key is stopping it from happening in the first place. If you’re using a mouse, make sure that your elbows are up, not out. You don’t want to wear a suitcase or a bag. You want to switch back and forth so you’re not stretching one side out. I was going to mention, some ladies who are maybe more ample chested…


Brad: They’re endowed. That’s what my PT teacher described it as.


Bob: One thing is that if they wear a bra that goes outside on the shoulder blades, that puts stress on their shoulders and on the shoulder blade. They should get bras that go right up against the neck.


Brad: It might be like a sports bra, too. It has a wider strap that doesn’t carry over to the extreme on the shoulder.


Bob: All right, we’ll let you ladies figure that one out. Thanks everybody!



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