Do you have stiff neck headaches?

Stiff neck headaches. A stiff neck is one of the first things the doctor asks you about when you complain about a headache. Why?

This article is based on the December 2003 issue of HeadWay. If you haven't subscribed to HeadWay, why not check it out? It's free!

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Usually headache and neck pain is not a serious problem. You may have slept in an uncomfortable position or your neck may be tired. But there are times when stiff neck headaches indicate 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 headaches 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 reliable guide to have on hand in your home for understanding health problems (without having to ask your doctor 300 questions!).

What if it's just a “Crick in the neck”?

Often stiff neck headaches or headache and neck pain is cervical spasm, more commonly known as a "crick in the neck." You have an aching, tight feeling in your neck, or even sharp, stabbing pain. If you're prone to headaches you may find that this can trigger headache pain, migraine, and may even keep you from sleeping, which makes matters worse!

More than once I've had stiff neck headaches. I talked to my family doctor, and done a little research.

If you're having trouble going about your daily work, consider getting a soft cervical collar. You can make your own 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 time. If the pain is severe for more than one day, see your doctor.

If you have this problem more than once, invest in a quality cervical pillow. A cervical pillow can support your sore neck and keep those headaches and neck pain away.

The Johns Hopkins Family Health Book has other suggestions for stiff neck headaches, such as 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!

Stiff neck headaches? Be strong!

If you often find that your headache pain is coming from your neck, try exercising and your neck. Exercising it is an important step to making it more relaxed. 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, which can help ward off stiff neck headaches, in his book What Your 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 ten, 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!

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