Neck Pain and Headache: 4 Helpful Home Exercises

Approximately 20% of headaches come from the muscles, joints, and nerves of your neck. Symptoms include pain in your neck, head, and around your eyes. Pain is mostly on 1 side of your head and neck. Neck movements or sustained postures, like sitting at a desk, exacerbate your pain. Medications are ineffective. Thankfully, research over the last 10 to 15 years proves exercise is effective for managing headaches.

Research Supports Exercise for Managing Headaches and Neck Pain

In 2010, researchers from Finland investigated the effectiveness of 3 different types of exercise programs for patients with headaches. One group performed stretching and strengthening exercises for their neck and shoulders. The other group did stretching and endurance exercises. The third group performed only stretching.

After 12 weeks, headaches decreased by 69% in the strengthening group.  Headaches decreased by 58% in the endurance group.  However, the stretching group only decreased their headaches by 37%. This study showed endurance and strengthening exercises are more effective than stretching. The exercises in this article are endurance and strengthening exercises that are easily done at home.

Deep Neck Flexor Exercises

The deep neck flexors are small muscles deep in the front of your neck. The longus coli and longus capitis are the 2 primary muscles. These muscles nod your head like you are saying “yes”. However, they also play a very important role in supporting your spine and controlling movement.

Research shows people with neck pain have small and poorly functioning deep neck flexor muscles. The craniocervical flexion exercise is first done to improve your endurance. After several weeks of building endurance, add the cervical flexion exercise to improve strength. Do both of these exercises on the floor or flat on your bed.

Neck Extensor Exercises

The neck extensors are equally important.  These small muscles lie deep in the back of your neck.  They are active when lifting your head to look up.  They also play an important role in supporting your spine and head.

Changes in extensor muscle size, structure, and function occur in people with neck pain. Muscle loss is associated with a build-up of fatty tissue in the same area. Control and coordination of movement become impaired. This results in difficulty picking up your head or changing positions.

Similar to training the flexors, exercise is first performed to improve endurance. After several weeks of building endurance, progress to exercises that improve your strength.

Get More Help for Your Neck Pain and Headaches

Neck pain and headaches are debilitating and negatively impact your quality of life.  However, not everyone with headaches has to suffer. These 4 exercises are only a small sample of the types of exercises that will help.

Your physical therapist will show you other strategies to decrease your pain.  And your physical therapist will continually assess your pain and progress your exercise program based on your goals.  As your pain improves, you will get you your quality of life back. Contact us today if you have headaches and want to know which treatments are right for you.

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