Headaches!! Aspirin or Exercise?
One of the most common types of stress-related headaches is called a cervicogenic headache. This type of headache is the result of referred pain from boney or soft tissue structures in the neck. When your upper trapezius goes tense from stress and one of the attachment sites of the trapezius is the base of your skull, what do you think the end result could be? That’s right. A cervicogenic headache. When it comes to special testing such as XRays or MRI, there is no clear relationship between degenerative changes of the discs or cervical vertebrae and headaches (Ylinen et al 2010). As a result, most of our assessment comes from functional and palpation testing of the cervical joints and soft tissue. Conservative management of neck and headache pain often includes passive therapies such as the many specialized soft tissue techniques that we offer at OrthoWell Physical Therapy. But what does the research say about exercise-based interventions? Do neck exercises help cases of cervicogenic headache? According to Ylinen et al 2010, they certainly do. The strength group performed one set of 15 reps (in four directions) of cervical resistance training using rubber bands, upper extremity dumbbell exercises, and neck stretches 5x/week in combination with 4 hands-on physical therapy treatments. The control group performed only daily neck stretches, cardio 3x/week, and no physical therapy. What they found, at a 12 month follow-up, was that headache pain decreased by 69% in the strength group and only 37% in the control group. A more detailed analysis of the study can be found at the Theraband Academy website. In conclusion, the evidence-based combination of hands-on physical therapy, exercise, and patient education would be the best approach to resolving cervicogenic headaches.