Cervical spine syndrome and headache
Under the term "cervical spine syndrome" (Cervical spine syndrome) one understands a symptom complex of back or arm pain that arise in the area of the cervical spine segments.
Clinically, a distinction is made in the cervical spine syndrome between acute and chronic disease forms. The main cause of acute cervical spine syndrome is usually traumatic injuries to the cervical spine that occur in the course of a traffic accident. In addition, excessive strain and abnormal movements of the cervical spine can lead to acute cervical spine syndrome. The chronic cervical spine syndrome is caused in most cases by degenerative changes at the level of the individual vertebral segments.
The most common causes of the development of the cervical spine syndrome are traumatic events that affect the cervical spine (for example, the cervical spine whiplash in a traffic accident).
In addition, degenerative changes in the individual cervical spine segments are considered to be the main cause of the occurrence of a cervical spine syndrome with neck pain and headache. Above all, changes in the intervertebral disc (e.g. herniated disc) and functional disorders of the straps of the cervical spine cause classic cervical spine syndrome symptoms in many patients.
Furthermore, diseases of the vertebral joints and additional bone growth on the vertebral bodies can lead to the cervical spine syndrome with neck pain and headaches.
If the cervical spine syndrome occurs at a young age, congenital developmental disorders can be a possible cause. Especially children who suffer from severe scoliosis (twisting and torsion of the spine around its longitudinal axis) develop a cervical spine syndrome with headaches and / or neurological deficits. In addition, inflammatory changes in the cervical spine can lead to the development of the cervical spine syndrome and the associated severe neck pain and headaches. Metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis or rickets are also possible triggers of the cervical spine syndrome.
Read more on this topic at:
- Neck pain with headache
- Causes of the cervical spine syndrome
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The treatment of patients suffering from cervical spine syndrome with neck pain and / or headache depends primarily on the underlying disease.
For this reason, the diagnosis of the cervical spine syndrome plays a decisive role.
The headaches that arise in the course of the cervical spine problem can in many cases be treated by taking painkillers (analgesics). Above all, ibuprofen and paracetamol are particularly suitable for treating headaches associated with the cervical spine syndrome. If the symptoms are based on an inflammatory cause, treatment with ibuprofen should be used. The reason for this is the fact that paracetamol has analgesic and antipyretic properties, but has no influence on the inflammatory reactions.
If the headache is severe and cannot be controlled, an extended treatment plan should be discussed with the attending physician. Under certain circumstances, the temporary use of higher quality pain relievers (e.g. Novalgin) can be useful.
Patients who have severe tension in addition to headaches should be treated with so-called muscle relaxants in addition to painkillers. In this way, the excessive tension in the muscles is released and less tension is exerted on the individual vertebral segments.
In addition, the use of cooling or warming pads or ointments can help relieve headaches in the cervical spine syndrome. For the patient concerned, it is also important to improve the overall stability of the vertebral segments by training the muscles of the cervical spine. This can be done, for example, in the course of physiotherapy.
Meaningful exercises can be learned in special back schools. Furthermore, the so-called electrical stimulation is considered a successful method in the treatment of patients who suffer from the cervical spine syndrome with neck and headaches. In this procedure, the smallest nerve branches that lie beneath the skin are stimulated using stick-on electrodes. As a result, the transmission of pain to the brain is interrupted and the headache is relieved. Appropriate stimulation devices (Transcutaneous nerve stimulation; TENS) can be purchased and the treatment can be carried out from the comfort of your home.
In addition, the chirotherapeutic unblocking of the vertebral joints is considered a successful treatment method for patients suffering from the cervical spine syndrome. In the case of acute symptoms, the injection of a local anesthetic can help alleviate the symptoms (especially neck pain and headache). In addition, alternative treatments may be effective in some cases. Performing acupuncture in particular leads to effective relief of pain symptoms for many of those affected.
Some time ago, patients who suffered from a pronounced cervical spine syndrome with severe neck pain and / or headache were treated with a neck brace. Nowadays this method is only used sporadically. Nevertheless, wearing a neck brace can relieve the spinal column segments, especially briefly, and thus alleviate the symptoms.
Read more on the topic:
- Treatment of cervical spine syndrome
- Physiotherapy for a cervical spine syndrome
- Osteopathy in cervical spine syndrome
The prognosis of the cervical spine syndrome and the associated headache depends on the underlying disease. An exact prognosis cannot therefore be given.
Read more on the topic: Duration of a cervical spine syndrome
Typically, headaches in patients with cervical spine syndrome begin in the neck area (neck pain). In addition, the back of the headache felt by the patient can radiate into the arms and hands. Many people who suffer from chronic cervical spine syndrome report regular headaches, the intensity of which even leads to nausea and vomiting.
Other symptoms of the cervical spine syndrome are visual disturbances, dizziness and tinnitus. In addition to neck pain and headache, neurological deficits can also occur. It is not uncommon for those affected to report numbness and tingling in their arms and hands.
In the course of the disease, symptoms of paralysis of the arm muscles can also occur. Furthermore, the cervical spine syndrome can be further subdivided according to its exact localization and pain radiation. In everyday clinical practice a distinction is made between an upper, middle and lower cervical spine syndrome.
In the case of the upper cervical spine syndrome, the neck pain and headache typically radiate to the back of the head. In some cases, the affected patients also feel a strong stinging sensation that reaches over the ears and the forehead region.
The middle cervical spine syndrome, on the other hand, only rarely causes headaches. Rather, patients who suffer from this type of cervical spine syndrome report discomfort in the shoulder blades and arms. Numbness, tingling sensations and motor failures are also typical for this type of cervical spine syndrome.
In most cases, the lower cervical spine syndrome shows up in the forearms and hands. Above all, the exact location of the complaints in the hand area allows conclusions to be drawn about the impaired nerve root.
More on this topic: Symptoms of a cervical spine syndrome
Headache in the back of your head
A common symptom of cervical spine syndrome is headache, most commonly the back of the head. At the lower part of the back of the head arise on the one hand the large hood muscle (Muscuslus trapezius), which runs into both shoulders and to the thoracic spine and on the other hand small muscles in the depth, which are important for the mobility of the head.
Tension can occur in all parts of these muscles, which can lead to headaches at the back of the head and other symptoms of the cervical spine syndrome. In addition, irritated nerves can be responsible for radiating pain to the back of the head.
However, if pain only occurs at the back of the head, the cause of the discomfort can also be a tension headache. A distinction is often not possible with certainty.
Differentiated from the cervical spine syndrome, there must also be alarm signals for a dangerous disease. These are, on the one hand, sudden onset of extremely severe pain in the back of the head, which is also known as annihilation headache, and, on the other hand, headaches that are accompanied by increasing neck stiffness and possibly fever. In such cases a doctor should be contacted immediately.
Also read our topic:
- Neck tension
- How can you relieve neck tension?
Headache on the forehead
With the many possible manifestations of symptoms of a cervical spine syndrome, it can also happen that there is a headache on the forehead. This location is rarer compared to the back of the head but still affects some people with the syndrome. In particular, if the upper part of the cervical spine is affected, the pain can radiate over the ears to the forehead region. The nature of the pain is often described as stabbing. Both or only one side can be affected. Strictly one-sided headaches on the forehead are more typical of a migraine or a cluster headache.
If the pain is dull or oppressive, a tension headache can also be the cause. Regardless of the cause, short-term use of pain relievers and regular physical activity can often provide relief for both cervical spine syndrome and the other possible causes.
If you have frequent or very severe headaches on the forehead, you should see your doctor and ask for help.
Many people with cervical spine syndrome experience headaches and dizziness. There is usually a staggering vertigo or staggering. In addition, an unsteady gait can occur.
The causes lie on the one hand in nerve irritation and on the other hand in the often restricted mobility of the cervical spine. In addition to the headache, the tense posture can trigger dizziness symptoms. In addition, it can lead to an impairment of the sense of position, which further intensifies the symptoms.
However, the cervical spine syndrome is just one of many possible causes of dizziness. There are many other diseases that can also be responsible for dizziness and headaches at the same time. During the diagnostic work-up, a disease of the nerves or the sense of balance, for example, can sometimes be determined as the cause.
The diagnosis of a cervical spine syndrome can ultimately only be made after other causes of headache and dizziness have been ruled out.
Read more on the topic: Cervical spine syndrome and dizziness
A cervical spine syndrome can trigger a variety of non-specific symptoms. In addition to headaches, many sufferers also experience occasional nausea. This can be caused by irritation of the so-called vagus nerve, which runs from the brain on both sides of the neck to the internal organs. The muscular or bony causes of the cervical spine syndrome can trigger nausea by influencing the nerves. Nausea can also be the result of dizziness, which also occurs in some people with cervical spine syndrome.
In addition, some people react to the pain in the neck or shoulder area with nausea. Often, however, the cause of the symptom remains uncertain. Anyone who frequently suffers from headaches and nausea should be examined by their family doctor. The symptoms may also have different causes.
For example, nausea can also occur as a result of a stomach ache. In some cases, it makes sense to treat the symptom by taking medication.
Read more on the topic: Cervical spine syndrome and nausea
Drowsiness is a very unspecific and vaguely defined sensation that can be traced back to a variety of possible causes. In addition to headaches and many other complaints, a cervical spine syndrome can also trigger a feeling of drowsiness.
This can arise, among other things, from restricted mobility of the cervical spine with the resulting unsteadiness of gait and from pain. As a rule, the symptom cannot be treated specifically, but is improved by measures that generally alleviate the symptoms of a cervical spine syndrome.
In some cases, a cervical spine syndrome causes irritation of nerve cells, which leads to a drop in blood pressure and thus drowsiness. In such a case, blood pressure should be measured when the symptoms occur.
Difficulty swallowing can have various causes, which can be roughly divided into mechanical disorders, for example due to a bulge or compression from the outside, and functional disorders due to a malfunction of the nerves.
A rare but possible cause can be a cervical spine syndrome, in which the difficulty swallowing is triggered by nerve irritation.
Another cause of headache and difficulty swallowing in a cervical spine syndrome is a spasm of a muscle that runs deep in front of the cervical spine.
In general, however, other causes of swallowing difficulties are more common, so that a doctor should be consulted if symptoms persist regularly or for a long time.
Visual disturbances can occur, for example, in the form of flickering eyes, double vision, restricted visual field or a reduction in visual acuity.
A cervical spine syndrome can also be accompanied by slight visual disturbances, for example if the blood supply to the supplying blood vessels in the neck area is impaired.
However, it is then a diagnosis of exclusion. Newly occurring visual disturbances should always be clarified by a medical examination, since in rare cases it can also be a disease of the eyes or the brain that requires treatment. This also applies if, for example, there is only temporary loss of vision in one eye.
If a headache and visual disturbance suddenly develop, it may be an acute increase in pressure in the eye (glaucoma) that should be treated.
Read more on the topic: Cervical spine syndrome and visual impairment
The first step in the diagnosis of the cervical spine syndrome is a detailed doctor-patient discussion (anamnesis).
During this conversation, the patient concerned should describe the neck pain and headache he perceived in as much detail as possible. In particular, the exact location and quality (dull, pulling, stabbing) of the headache can provide an initial indication of the underlying problem.
This is followed by a physical examination in which the mobility of the entire spine is checked. In addition, the attending physician carries out a series of special function tests that can provide further information on the possible cause of the cervical spine syndrome with neck pain and headache. The back muscles and neck muscles are also examined for tension. Furthermore, both the sensitivity and the strength of the arms should be examined.
Limitations of the reflexes can indicate an exact localization of the underlying disease. If there are any abnormalities in these areas, a neurologist should also be involved in the diagnosis. After a possible suspected diagnosis has been made, the attending physician usually orders further steps. If there is a cervical spine syndrome with neck pain and headache, x-rays of the cervical spine are usually made. If this procedure does not lead to the desired goal, an MRI can also be performed.
In many cases, complaints in the area of the spine can be prevented.
Diseases that affect the cervical spine segments are often caused by excessive stress and incorrect posture. For this reason, it is important to ensure sufficient movement and stabilization of the spine through muscle building. People who often work while sitting (for example at the computer) can prevent the cervical spine syndrome and the associated headaches by taking regular breaks. During these breaks, relaxation exercises for the neck, shoulder and back muscles should be performed.
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