Have you ever fell asleep in a car only to wake an hour later rubbing your neck and shoulders and with a slight headache? Have you ever seen anyone sleeping in a moving car, but they seem to know how to hold their head upright?
I am going to address a certain subsection of headaches. This does not include headaches do to trauma, concussion, a systemic disorder or migraines. The rest are headaches I believe to be related to neck pain. Of course this is not to say that chiropractic cannot help other forms of headaches, but I’d like to address those which patients can easily help themselves in times of need.
This may be related to a previous injury like a car accident, but I would like to distinguish those from headaches that are from a concussion or tumor or other space occupying lesion. For instance, if your headache is caused by diabetes and low blood sugar level, that is a possible emergency case and is not covered by this post. However, if you had whiplash from an accident, slept wrong, working at a desk for too long, and feel pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back muscles or joints, then this post may concern you.
Most headaches fall into one of these categories, but those that are most amenable to chiropractic are neck related which we term cervicogenic headaches. This is usually due to improper head positions that are held too long, making the musculature work overtime which becomes strained and relays the strain to adjacent muscles, until it finally reaches the muscles of the head and the base of the skull. In this are there are many nerve and arterial structures that are covered by muscles (ie occipital nerves). When blood and/or nerve supply is slightly cutoff, the brain recieves less than it’s normal share of blood and therefore oxygen, thus resulting in headaches, dizziness, other head and neck pains.
I find that these people benefit greatly from a chiropractic neck adjustment and a few sessions may be all that is needed to clear up the headache, but if you don’t have your chiropractor around then what to do? Mope in desperation? Here, a little knowledge can go along way.
The weight of the head in humans is much greater proportionately to the structures that hold it upright. Because of this fact, head position can greatly affect the muscles of the neck making them strain, this also causes compression of the joints. So if we reverse engineer the problem, then assuaging musculature can help decrease compression and give joint spaces more to work with. This relieves pressure on the joints, which over time can give relief to certain types of headaches.
Next time you have a headache, go see a chiropractor to help diagnose which type it is, but if your symptoms are closer to what I have described above you may try this stretch.
1) Sit up straight. Make sure the neck and upper back are as straight postural as you can get.
2) Turn head away from the side you want to stretch. So when trying to sttretch the left scalene turn your head toward the right.
3) Place your hand along the muscles immiediately above the collarbone of the side you want stretched. In the example above you would place your right hand on your left collarbone.
4) Without bending your neck laterally, extend the neck and head back while slightly massaging the collarbone muscles.
5) If this causes sharp pain and dizziness, please discontinue and see your doctor.
6) Lastly hold your breath for ten seconds while moving your eyes (in the examples above) to the upper right corner (it is not important that your eyes be open of close, but that you make an effort to look in that direction while holding your breath. When stretchin the right scalene the left hand will be above the collarbone and your eyes should look to the upper left.
7) exhale and relax at least 20 seconds before you repeat or move to the other side.
The reason for the eye movement is this: The eyes and the scalene share a common nerve, so when one structure experiences tension the other receives a sort of referred pain. Conversely when you relax the muscles of the of the lateral rectus (the muscle that makes the eyes go up and outward), you will further relax the scalene muscle.
Now those of you who know you anatomy may say, well isn’t the scalene made up of three muscles, the lateral, medial, and anterior. The answer is yes, but they tend to act as a group because of the shared origin points on the neck. Thus this exercise is usually good for all three, and remember we are trying to lengthen them to give the head and neck more room in order to foster a better head and neck position.
Additionally a good massage of the head muscle may provide great relief and remember that for these types of headaches, nothing bets a chiropractic adjustment.