Stress is nothing more than our reaction to a provocation that upsets our physical and/or mental equilibrium. Accordingly, stress is a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Nevertheless, when we are faced with stress, our “fight or flight” response can be triggered; this causes the production of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol to increase and rush through your body.
About Your Neck Pain and Headaches
Simultaneously, muscles in our neck and scalp may contract. These muscle contractions occur when you are faced with stress, anxiety, or depression. When these muscles contract they often cause dull, nagging, headaches that often turn into full-blown migraine headaches. So, let’s explore the links between neck pain and headaches.
Robert Gotlin, DO, director of Orthopaedics and Sports Rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City says this about neck pain:
“As stress goes up I definitely see more patients with neck pain. Every year around tax time the number of patients with neck pain increases, especially among Wall Street types here in New York.”
Another cause of neck pain is structural and results from a neck joint issue. This type of a headache is known as a neck headache or more properly as a cervicogenic headache. But, research shows that fixing the neck can end a headache. The joints usually implicated in a neck headache are:
- Atlanto-occipital joint (O-C1);
- Atlanto-axial joint (C1/2); and
- C2/3 cervical spine joints.
When your neck joints are too tight a headache can result in just a few minutes. Not all stress is bad, though. Stress within your comfort level helps you to perform under pressure, keep you motivated to try to excel and can keep you safe when danger is evident.
How Many Types of Headaches Are There?
Headaches come in many sizes and pain levels, but there are four distinct types of a headache; they are:
- A migraine; and
Tension headaches are the most common of all headaches and can occur simply because you hold your head in one position for too long. Some of the activities that can lead to a tension headache from this source are:
- Computer work,
- Working with a microscope; and
- Fine work with one’s hands
Other causes of tension headaches include:
- Physical or emotional stress;
- Caffeine (too little [withdrawal] or too much;
- Sinus infections from a cold or the flu;
- Alcohol drinking;
- Eye strain;
- Fatigue; and
- Tobacco use
Serious debilitating headaches are a warning that you should seek medical attention; tension headaches, though, are most often just a nagging annoyance, though some can be painful enough to disrupt your activities. Nevertheless, they are the most common type of headache.
How Do I Deal with a Tension Headache?
Since tension headaches are the most common of all headaches, following are some tips on how to deal with a tension headache.
Relax – Tension headaches are called this for a reason; relaxation and stress relief can help put them out of your head. While stress is an undeniable part of life, an overabundance of stress can lead to more serious diseases such as high blood pressure or heart disorders. Activities that strain your neck and back should be curtailed and stretching breaks should be a regular part of your work day – more than once a day.
Apply hot or cold to your head and neck – Headaches are unlike most pain you feel in your body. While warmth is the usual prescription for aches and pains, in the case of headaches, things are not as certain. Sometimes, a hot compress or pad actually makes your headache worse, so use whichever works best for you, heat or ice packs.
Fix Your Workplace Ergonomics – a headset for your telephone, proper monitor positioning for your computer, a desktop riser that lets you work while standing. In addition, make sure your eyeglasses and contacts are current.
Stretch Your Muscles – Stretching is a great way to release tense muscles in the neck and scalp. Do your stretching with a general exercise program designed by a trainer or physical therapist for your specific needs. Just remember to tell the trainer or physical therapist about your headaches.
Headaches can be beastly, but you can tame them by reducing neck pain and stress and dealing with headaches as soon as they come to you.