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HeadWay, Issue #005 -- Get rid of neck pain!
December 20, 2003

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In this month's issue:

Pain in the neck? Keep neck pain from giving you a headache!

Do you have a stiff neck?

Say What?! Acephalgic migraine

Pain in the neck?
Keep neck pain from giving you a headache!

On Monday morning I woke up with pain in my neck and upper back. Soon I had a horrible headache on top of it (literally). It got me thinking that some of you might have the same problem, hopefully to a lesser degree, over the next few weeks. During the next few days, do you expect any unusual stress in your life? Are you going to be sleeping in an unfamiliar bed? Willing you be keeping a different schedule than normal? Will you be spending an unusual amount of time sitting, standing, driving? You just may end up with a headache that starts in your neck, and you may even find yourself with a migraine.

Often the neck pain and stiffness we get is cervical spasm, more commonly known as a “crick in the neck”. You may have an aching, tight feeling in your neck, or even sharp, stabbing pain. If you're prone to headaches, quite often you'll find that this can trigger headache pain, migraine, and may even deprive you of sleep.

I talked to my family doctor, and checked out Johns Hopkins Family Health Book to look for treatment. If this happens to you more than once, or you're just having trouble going about your daily work, consider getting a soft cervical collar. To avoid the problem in the future, try a cervical pillow for nighttime. You can make your own collar by folding a bath towel three to four times and wrapping it softly around your neck, securing it with a safety pin. The collar should only be used for a short period of time. If the pain is severe for more than one day, see your doctor.

The Johns Hopkins Family Health Book also suggests putting an ice pack on your upper back or neck. You can try NSAIDs (such as Advil) to lessen the pain. Avoid carrying heavy bags, especially with shoulder straps. Give your back and neck a break!

If you often find that your headache pain is coming from your neck, try relaxing and exercising your neck. Take a few moments during the day to massage your neck muscles. Try shrugging and relaxing your shoulders, or moving your shoulders back to press together your shoulder blades, then relax.

Dr Alexander Mauskop recommends isometric exercises in his book What You Doctor May NOT Tell You About Migraines. Try sitting up straight, head erect, eyes forward. Place your palm against your forehead with the base of your palm at the bridge of your nose. Exert a gentle pressure that steadily increases, while using your neck muscles to keep your head from being pushed backward. Hold to the count of 10, then relax. Repeat 5-10 times throughout the day. This will both strengthen and relax your neck muscles. Try doing the same exercise from side to side by placing your palm on the side of your head and pushing to the side, then lacing your hands behind your head and pushing backwards.

Over time, paying attention to these things can dramatically decrease headaches and the neck stiffness and pain itself! But while we're on the topic, a little more about neck stiffness...

Do you have a stiff neck?

That's one of the first things the doctor asks you when you complain about a headache. Have you ever wondered why?

Most of the time a stiff neck is not a serious problem. You may have slept in an uncomfortable position or your neck may be tired. But there are times when a stiff neck indicates a serious problem. As you should already know, if you get an unusual headache, you should talk to your doctor. And most of us know that if we're experiencing pain or stiff neck after an injury, such as a fall or blow to the head, we should also see a doctor right away.

But stiff neck can indicate other problems, such as meningitis. Usually, the symptoms will include pain, especially when you try to move your chin down toward your neck. If you're experiencing confusion and nausea, you could have bleeding or inflammation in the brain, which is very serious. If you hear a crunching sound when you move your head, and you're feeling numb or a tingling sensation in your arms, you could be dealing with cervical osteoarthritis.

Although chances are you're only dealing with sore muscles, if you're experiencing unusual or new symptoms, including stiff neck, be sure to check with your doctor right away. Catching serious problems early on is often the key to curing them.

** Thanks to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide for this information, an excellent guide to have on hand in your home.

Say What?! Acephalgic Migraine

If your doctor says you have acephalgic migraine, that may be reason to mourn or celebrate, depending on your point of view. Acephalgic migraine is migraine which does not include headache. Although the word "migraine" is sometimes used to mean "very bad headache", migraine is really a neurological disease which may or may not include headache as a symptom.

Acephalgic migraine is also called silent migraine or migraine without headache. You may be dealing with other symptoms (such as visual disturbances), but there is a bright side. The headache is a part of migraine I'd rather avoid!

Have a great month, and we'll see you in 2004!
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