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Posture and Headaches - Is your upper neck aligned? 

Posted in Head Pain Disorders, Neck Pain Disorders on Feb 22, 2021

The alignment of your head plays a significant role in cervicogenic headaches according to a recent team of researchers. 

A cervicogenic headache is a headache that occurs due to irritation of the nerves, muscles or connective tissues in the neck. In the past, some researchers have made the statement that upwards of 90% of all headaches are actually cervicogenic in nature!

Specifically, this new research looked at people’s posture using measurements of the craniocervical angle (i.e., a measurement of head position relative to the top of the neck) and a pain index scale.

What the researchers concluded was that people who had abnormal alignment issues between the head and neck angle were more sensitive to neck pain and more likely to experience headaches.

 

Is bad posture really just laziness? 

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This research is not exactly new but provides more evidence for the link between forwarding head carriage, neck pain and headaches.

So the question is, “Why do people have bad neck posture?

If it was a simple matter of laziness, you would sit up straight immediately when your mother or teacher scolds you. But what happens? You fall right back into it.

And if it was also just a muscle problem, you’d be able to lift your head into a neutral position and keep it there all day. But what happens? It just springs right back.

So it would seem that the muscles are involved with forwarding head carriage, bad posture and headaches. However, it is would also seem that it is not just a muscle problem.

So the question now is, “What controls the muscles?

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The answer is your brain and your nerve system. Your nerves control every function in your body including the heartbeat, breathing, digestion, feeling, emotion and also movement.

So if your brain making a mistake by causing your muscles to tighten abnormally? We believe that the answer is “No.” The innate mechanisms of the body do not deliberately do anything that is going to cause pain or other problems.

Therefore, what this suggests is that your body is deliberately creating muscle tension and posture problems BECAUSE IT IS COMPENSATING FOR SOMETHING ELSE.

 

Is there a connection between forwarding head posture, headaches and your atlas alignment? 

Here is where a unique form of healthcare known as upper cervical chiropractic believes there may be an answer.

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Upper cervical chiropractic is a special division focused on the alignment and normal motion of the vertebrae in the top of your neck: the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2).

Of interest, it is the nerves that exit the spine here - the C1, C2 and C3 nerves - that are usually involved with cervicogenic headaches!

The normal function of the atlas and axis vertebrae is to protect your brainstem and to provide head movement. 50% of all your total neck movement comes from just these two bones.

The trade for this flexibility is that they are also the vertebrae that are most susceptible to injury. The reason is that unlike all other areas of the spine, there is no intervertebral disc that locks them into place.

Therefore, if there is ever an injury to the ligaments and muscles that support the normal position of either the atlas or the axis, they may shift off their centre of gravity, which can cause the rest of your body to compensate.

Even a 2mm misalignment may be significant to cause problems. As small that 2mm may seem, 2mm is the size of a grain of sand. And if you have ever had sand or dust blow into your eyes (which share the common nerve processing centre with the C1, C2 and C3 nerves), you know just how much that hurts!

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So the alignment of the upper neck may have a tremendous impact on the function and feeling of the nerves in your upper neck.

Therefore, if you have a misalignment in the upper part of your neck, you can have a cascade of problems that ripple all the way down the spine that manifests as tension, tight muscles and bad posture. And given a long enough period of time, this tension and tightness can lead to a number of neuromuscular conditions including the all-too-common cervicogenic headache.

In this way, an upper cervical chiropractor focuses on the alignment, motion and function of the C1, C2 and C3 vertebrae in your neck, for the purpose of allowing your body to function the way that it is designed.

 

Upper cervical chiropractic and cervicogenic headaches

Unlike general spinal manipulation, a Blair upper cervical adjustment does not use any cracking, twisting or popping in the neck.

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Upper cervical care has been researched and developed in the USA as a different approach to healthcare and even historical forms of chiropractic. In Australia, it is still exceptionally rare with only approximately a dozen or so practitioners using a specific upper cervical technique.

One of the major differences in the degree of precision that is used in an upper cervical chiropractic office. After taking a health history, an upper cervical chiropractor will perform a series of physical and neurological assessments, w which help to reveal if there is an underlying issue with the alignment of your upper neck. (Posture is often one major hint.)

If so, an upper cervical chiropractor may take a series of specialised diagnostic images, which help better visualise the exact location, direction and degree of any misalignment in your neck so that they can design an adjustment, made just for you, which helps to restore the no-ramp motion and thereby allowing your body to heal.

Many people who have seen chiropractors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, etc, often experience relief from cervicogenic headaches, which is great!

For other people, it is a bit more hit and miss. Often, what we find in our clinic is that the direction and degree of misalignment in people’s neck is often just slightly different, which means that we need to use a different type of adjustment that may be able to help.

So even if you think you’ve already tried everything for your headaches, if you know that your posture isn’t great and if you have that gut sense that it is your neck that is the problem, we may be able to help.

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At Atlas Health, we are the premier upper cervical chiropractic centre in Brisbane. Located in North Lakes (north Brisbane), our focus is on helping people with chronic health challenges including cervicogenic headaches, who have been everywhere else, but no one knows what’s going on. Our goal is to offer long term solutions so that you are able to enjoy the quality of life that you really want.

Our principal chiropractor is Dr Jeffrey Hannah, who is an advanced certified instructor with the Blair upper cervical chiropractic technique. Dr Hannah is an international speaker, published author and recognised leader in the field of upper cervical chiropractic care.

If you have been experiencing headaches and would like to schedule a consultation with Dr Hannah, we are happy to offer a 15-minute no-obligation over-the-phone consultation where you can discuss your specific case and ask any questions you may have so that you can decide if care may be right for you.

Simply reach our office through the Contact Us link on this page, or call us direct at 07 3188 9329.

We hope that you’ve found this article informative and valuable, and we hope that we may do our best to assist you,

Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out.”

 

References

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Mingels S, Dankaerts W, Granitzer M. Is There Support for the Paradigm 'Spinal Posture as a Trigger for Episodic Headache'? A Comprehensive Review. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019 Mar 4;23(3):17. doi: 10.1007/s11916-019-0756-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30830498

Millstine D, Chen CY, Bauer B. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ. 2017 May 16;357:j1805. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j1805. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28512119 

Teng CC, Chai H, Lai DM, Wang SF. Cervicocephalic kinesthetic sensibility in young and middle-aged adults with or without a history of mild neck pain. Man Ther. 2007 Feb;12(1):22-8. Epub 2006 Jun 14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16777468

Whittingham W, Ellis WB, Molyneux TP. The effect of manipulation (toggle recoil technique) for headaches with upper cervical joint dysfunction: a pilot study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1994;17(6):369-75.

Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration. Spine J. 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707074

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