Wait, My Headache Isn’t Coming From My Head?

Headaches are incredibly common for most people, and people often have difficulty

getting rid of or even just managing them. For those of us with frequent headaches,

it can feel like ibuprofen is a daily vitamin instead of a once-in-a-while pain reliever.

What most people do not know is that PTs actually treat headaches. And pretty

frequently, too!

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I can treat any headache you may

have. Headaches are a very complicated condition at times, and it takes the highest

medical care and manipulation to improve some of these. However, for most

headaches I have seen, I can help with immediate and drastic improvement in your

symptoms. How is that? Well I’m not manipulating your brain, clearly. So what are

we doing to impact your headache?

In order to explain how I can treat this condition, we need to first define a

“cervicogenic headache.”

 ●Cervico – meaning “pertaining to the neck”

 ●Genic – meaning “coming from, or origin”

Wait, so you are telling me that there are some headaches that are actually coming

from my neck? How can that be? Well, if you are a patient of mine, we have likely

talked at length about referral patterns. A referral pattern is a phenomenon that

happens when a certain structure in your body is hurting, but your brain is

perceiving the pain as coming from somewhere else. This technically has to do with

pathways in your spinal cord and brain that can get crossed. I won’t bore you with

the neurology. But, now that we know what a referral pattern is, let’s talk about

trigger points.

Trigger points are those “knots” you may feel throughout muscles in your body that

seem to be persistent and are often way more sensitive than they should be. These

will cause referred pain, and I bet you can grab your upper trapezius muscle (top of

your shoulder leading to your neck) right now and find some trigger points. Trigger

points are present in every person’s body and are often not an issue. A latent trigger

point is one that is not complaining unless you push down on it. These are normal

and not to be worried about. However, an active trigger point is one that is causing

pain without us even touching it. These are the ones that can cause cervicogenic


Here, let’s look at some common referral patterns for muscles around your neck.

The red areas on the images are the areas will be where you are feeling the pain.

(source: www.triggerpoints.net)

Do you see any red areas that match your headache presentation? I know I have

certainly had some headaches in the past that look just like these pictures. And these

aren’t even all of the referral patterns onto the head!

So now the next question becomes: “Well, what do we do about this?” This one’s

easy. You come and see me, and we get these headaches out of your life. We will use

a combination of manual therapy, dry needling and exercise to help decrease the

frequency, intensity and impact of your headaches.

Oh, and if you’re unsure that your headache is coming from your neck muscles, well,

we can find that out within the first couple of minutes of your examination. But

more often than not, we can help the pain. And as always, if I can’t help your pain, I

will find you somebody who can. That’s my promise.

Do you have questions about your headaches? Or want to set up an appointment

with me to get these resolved? Call or email today!

Until next time,


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