Headaches are often caused by disorders of the neck or physical and emotional tension. Physiotherapists can successfully treat most headaches and show you how to prevent the pain recurring.

Is your headache really a neck ache?

For many people, feeling of pain and tension start at the top of the neck .As the pain worsens , it may be spread to the back of the head, the temples, forehead or behind the eyes. Moving the neck or bending forward for a long time tends to make it worse.

This happens because the nerve in the upper part of your neck are connected to the nerves in your head and face. A disorder of the upper neck joints or muscles can cause referred pain to your head. Any of the following points suggest that your neck may be causing the headache

    • Headache associated with neck pain. Does the pain radiate from the back to the front of your head?
    •  Headache with dizziness or light headedness
    • Headache brought on or worsened by neck movement or staying in the same position for a long time.
    • Headache which always feels worse on the same side of your head.
    • Headache eased by pressure to the base of the skull.
    • Headache which persists after your doctor has checked for other causes. 

Headaches from other causes

Emotional tension and anxiety can cause the muscles at the base of the head and jaw to become very tight, irritating the nerves and restricting blood flow. This produces a headache.

If migraine, allergic reactions or other causes are suspected, your physiotherapist will recommend that you see a medical practitioner.

Preventing headaches

Here is some useful advice to help you prevent headaches:


Think tall :chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, chin tucked in and head level. Your neck should feel strong, straight and relaxed.


Avoid working with your head down for long periods. Stretch and change position frequently.


A down pillow or urethane moulded pillow is best for most people. Talk to your physiotherapist.


Keep your neck joints and muscles flexible and strong with correct neck exercises. Your physiotherapist can show you how.


Recognize when you are tense.  You may be hunching your shoulders or clenching your teeth without realising it.

How physiotherapists can help

Physiotherapists are experts in posture and human movement. They will be able to determine if your neck is causing the headaches.

    • mobilisation
    • manipulation
    • massage
    • remedial exercise
    • postural assessment, correction and advice
    • relaxation therapy
    • laser, ultrasound, electrotherapy and heat treatment 

Your Physiotherapist can also offer you self-help  advice on ways to correct the cause of headaches, such as practical tips for work and in the home, adjusting furniture relaxation and exercise.

Manipulation can be an effective treatment for headache caused by neck problems, but it may not be the best option in every situation. Other methods such as mobilisation may be preferable. Your physiotherapist will carefully check your neck and discuss the option with you before any form of treatment takes place.