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Neck Related Headache

The problem

  • Headaches generated from the top of the neck are common.
  • These may be caused by painful trigger points in muscles or as a result of neural sensitisation resulting from poor upper cervical (neck) mechanics.
  • Both of these mechanisms can then refer pain into the head and face.
  • Poor sitting and standing posture is usually a large contributing factor.

Interesting facts

  • There are over 300 different types of headaches described in the literature.
  • Headaches tend to be grouped by the symptoms experienced by the sufferer rather than by the underlying cause.
  • Recent evidence suggests a much larger involvement of the cervical spine in the development of a number of headache types, much more than previously thought.

What you can expect and to look out for

  • Different levels of the cervical spine refer to different areas of the head
  • Upper levels tend to refer to the forehead and temple areas of the skull
  • The middle levels cause pain at the base of the skull
  • Tightness in the muscles at the base of the skull is commonly  associated with headaches caused by the neck
  • Intense migraine like headaches can also make people feel dizzy and in extreme cases even nauseous (consult GP to be safe)

Management Options

  • Physiotherapy to restore normal mechanics using stretching, massage, acupuncture, trigger point release and joint mobilization techniques has been show to be very effective in treating these headaches.
  • Heat, self massage and stretching to the top of the neck will usually help.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication can be quite effective in settling symptoms (consult your GP).
  • Maintaining good sitting and standing posture is very important.
  • Pilates and exercises to strengthen postural muscles can be helpful in preventing re-occurrence of symptoms.

Things to look out for

You should notify your GP if you experience;

  • Sudden onset of severe headaches.
  • Headaches associated with nausea and vomiting.
  • Headache associated with decreased level of alertness.
  • Headache as a result of trauma.
  • Headache associated with sudden unexplained weight loss.


At Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy our highly qualified physiotherapists specialise in the assessment, treatment and prevention of neuromusculoskeletal injuries.

Contact us today – 9252 5770



This handout was prepared by Sydney Sports and Orthopaedic Physiotherapy and is intended as a general information service. Please note that the information provided is not intended as a substitute for advice from a registered physician or healthcare professional. If symptoms persist, please consult your doctor.

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