Understanding Neck Architecture and Function
How long have you been dealing with a pain in the back of the head? You’ve probably tried many of the common things including stretches from the physiotherapist of manipulation from the chiropractor. Or maybe you’ve literally taken matters into your own hands and self-manipulate to your neck to relieve the discomfort and pain in the back of your head.
If so, can I ask you a few very important questions:
- How many vertebrae are in your neck?
- If your neck clicks, pops or cracks when you get treatment (or if you do it yourself), which one moves? … Or is it multiple bones that crack?
- Which ones actually need to move? How do you know?
- What types of tests have you had done to figure out what the actual problem is? and
- If the problem keeps coming back day-after-day, do you think that what you’re currently doing is actually working?
If you are experiencing pain in the back of the head, really, what do you think is causing it? … And I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t your posture, and it isn’t stress either. Poor posture and stress can only aggravate something else that is going on beneath the surface.
And the truth is that if you are experiencing pain in the back of the head, it isn’t just a head problem or a neck problem or a shoulder problem.
It is actually a sign of a potentially serious health problem!
How to “Read” Neck Pain Symptoms
There are 7 vertebrae in your neck. They serve two primary purposes: 1) to support the muscles that allow you to move your head; and 2) to protect your spinal cord.
Your spinal cord in your neck is your literal lifeline. If you damage your spinal cord in your neck, the consequences are extremely serious: paralysis or even death.
Now, that’s if we’re talking a major injury that severs 100% of the normal impulses that allow your brain to communicate with the rest of your body. So what if you had something going on that diminishing was reducing that communication by 10%? Sure, your brain and body are still able to communicate 90%, but certainly not as well as they are supposed to. But can you also imagine what happens if this 10% is allowed to accumulate like unpaid debt over months, years or decades? Do you think that 10% could turn into something far more serious as you get older?
And pain in the back of the head is one of the most common initial signs that something like that is happening.
What can Cause Pain the Back of Your Head
When something is jammed up in your neck - specially a misalignment of one of the bones, which means it is not able to move properly - it causes the muscles that connect your head and your shoulders to tighten. It’s the reason you feel like something just needs to “crack” in order to release.
The problem is that general manipulation usually often only moves the wrong spots. Yes, it feels good for a few minutes because you get a local release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural “pain killers.” However, because the underlying problem is still there, that’s why everything tightens up again so quickly.
When these muscles tighten, they can cause your posture to shift. The can also create stress on the nerves that go from your neck to the back of your head. So things like pain in the back of the head, headaches, neuralgia, neck pain, migraines or shoulder pain are the end result of something that your body just can’t quite fix on its own.
If it was a simple matter of stretching or exercising, it wouldn’t be a problem! However, if you’ve been experiencing pain in the back of the head or other symptoms for either a) 6 consecutive days or b) ongoing in up-and-down waves for more than 6 weeks, it is a sure-fire sign that you do have a problem with your neck that requires professional help to resolve.
And the longer you leave in, the worse off you may be in the long run!
What to do about Pain in the Back of the Head
One of the first and most important things to do if you experience pain in the back of your head is to find out exactly what is going on.
Not long ago, I had a consultation with a client, who was experiencing pain the back of the head and who said that she had not previously had any x-rays or other diagnostic scans of her neck because - in the exact words of her GP - “everyone has problems with their necks.”
I absolutely agree with the part of the statement about how common neck problems actually are. When you consider all the ways that you can injure your neck from birth - falling down, learning to ride a bicycle, playing sports, getting into accidents or suffering other injuries - it makes perfect sense. Then compound the problem by adding stress from school, work, computers, laptops and now phones. Our entire society is built on things that damages our necks!
But the travesty is that we seldom do anything about it! Let me ask you again: how long have you been dealing with pain in your neck or pain in the back of your head? Many people tolerate the discomfort or months or years, falsely believing that “it will go away on its own.”
It usually isn’t usually until 10 or even 20 years later that the pain in the back of the head becomes so problematic that it’s now affecting your ability to work, to enjoy time with your family or to enjoy your recreational activities that many people finally take action.
And by then, we’re unfortunately dealing with a bigger problem than neck pain or headaches. That pain in the back of the head is just the tip of the iceberg.
So what is the first thing that you need to do if you experiencing pain in the back of the head? Get it checked! Get it looked at by a healthcare professional, whose are of expertise is in the health of your cervical spine (i.e., neck).
When should you do it? 20 years ago. But unless you have a time machine, the second best time to do it is now.
Most Common Reasons Adults Get Pain in the Back of the Head
Without getting too technical and in my professional experience, the most common reasons that adults get pain in the back of the head is because of misalignments in the neck that are affecting the nerves, the muscles or the connective tissues that anchor the head to the neck.
Here’s the sequence of events. When you suffer an injury - even if it doesn’t break or dislocate anything - it can still shift the position of a bone in the neck, locking it out of normal place. Your body isn’t weak, and so you brain will use it to compensate for the injury by changing the activity of bones and muscles in other places of your neck. It would be like driving 100kph … but in second gear. You can do it, but inevitably you will destroy your transmission.
Research demonstrates that as little as 6 weeks is all that it takes before a fixated or locked joint in the spine starts to show signs of damage. Microdamage, yes. But even micro damage multiplied over a long period of time has the potential to create major long term issues.
This is the story of stress and degeneration in the neck. Osteoarthritis. And as the GP I mentioned earlier said, “almost everyone has it.” The thing about it is that degeneration is not simply a matter of ageing. I promise you, I see some people in their 70s with minimal neck damage, and other people in their 30s with horrific damage. It’s all a matter of how many of these micro-injuries they’ve suffered, and then how well their bodies have compensated for the stress.
Then, when this stress accumulates, whatever part of the body that bears the brunt of the stress will experience the problem:
- If it affects the muscles or connective tissue, it may feel like a chronic burning or tension pain in the back of the head
- If it affects the nerves that go from the neck, it can produce suboccipital neuralgia
- If it affects the nerves of tissue that protect the brainstem, it can produce a migraine.
For the many different diagnoses and reasons that adults can get pain in the back of the head, often, there is a common underlying physical condition that stems from the neck.
Most Common Reasons Children Get Pain in the Back of the Head
It is also one of the most important reasons for human beings - including children - to have a neck health checkup periodically.
Have you ever considered the reason that you see the dentist every 6-12 months as part of a routine checkup? It’s about prevention! Why? Because a cavity or gum issue - even if you do brush and floss - can slowly build up over time and damage your teeth.
So let me ask: when is the last time that you considered having a routine checkup for yourself or your children for the health of their neck? Not because anything is wrong, but as a matter of prevention?
Chiropractic Pain in the Back of the Head Diagnosis
So how do you know if the pain in the back of your head is coming from the alignment of the bones in your neck?
The first and most important step of the process is getting the right information by having the right tests. In our practice, the way that we diagnose problems with the neck is by performing a precise analysis of your posture, muscle tension; by doing specific neurological testing including computerised paraspinal thermography; and by taking customised x-rays of your neck, which show the exact location and degree of misalignment that can be helped.
Everyone’s bone structure is different! So many people who suffer pain in the back of the head - including people who have had standard x-rays, CTs or MRIs - may still not know what is going on because the tests they have had done are taken from stock angles. As a result, you can’t actually see what is going on.
Assuming no tumours, bleeds or infections (which are always important to exclude), most people who have pain in the back of the head do degree of degeneration or arthritis in their necks. Even if not possible to undo the arthritis, changes as slight as a couple of degrees or even a millimetre may be enough to take the pressure off of the muscles and nerves so that you do may be able to experience relief.
Chiropractic Treatment for Back of the Head Pain
If you are still looking for help for the pain in the back of your head, here is where Blair upper cervical chiropractic may be able to help.
Blair upper cervical care is a unique, gentle (non “cracking”) and powerful form of healthcare that focuses on the alignment and motion of the vertebrae in the top of your neck.
The Blair upper cervical procedure is unlike general chiropractic. Foremost, there is no manipulation or “cracking” the neck. The adjustment is performed with your neck in a neutral position using as little force as possible: usually no more than the amount of pressure you would use to feel your pulse.
As light as the correction is, people are often amazed how such a small but significant adjustment can make for the quality of their lives!
As we mentioned before, Blair upper cervical care is not a treatment for pain in the back of the head, but is a natural form of healthcare that helps improve the function of the vertebrae in your neck so that your body may be able to manage the symptoms to the best of its ability.
If you or a loved one are looking for a natural option that may be able to help the pain in the back fo the head, please contact our office at 07 3188 9329 to speak with one of our doctors to find out if Blair upper cervical care is right for you. Our practice is located in North Lakes between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast just off the Bruce Highway.
Take care of your neck with Blair upper cervical care and Atlas Health.
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