The interesting fact is that muscle and joint dysfunction in the cervical spine has been shown to cause headaches through a process known as referred pain. The referred pain phenomenon is a complicated neurological process, but simply stated, it causes pain to be felt at a location other than where the problem is occurring. Referred pain can be experienced during a heart attack, when the pain is felt in the left arm, or with a disc herniation in the low back, which causes pain to be felt down the leg.
Scientific studies have shown that when problems in the muscles and joints of the neck occur, they often refer pain to the head, causing symptoms such as aching, throbbing, pressure, burning, and even stabbing pain. In many cases an ache or tension in the neck is felt along with the headache symptoms, but in many cases there are no noticeable symptoms in the neck at all.
Many situations can affect the health and function of the muscles and joints of the neck. Poor or prolonged postural strain from computer use and many desk jobs, repetitive use with some sports, muscle imbalances, lack of stretching or strengthening, or an injury can all lead to muscle tightness, weakness, and a lack of coordination of the cervical spine muscles, which are critical to maintaining the health and function of the head and neck region.
Over time this strain can develop into what is known as micro-trauma. Micro-trauma is very small-scale damage that occurs in the muscles, tendons, joint capsules, and ligaments in response to small levels of strain. In many cases this micro-trauma is not painful, but the damage needs to be repaired. The body responds to micro-trauma by laying down small amounts of scar tissue to repair the area. Over time this scar tissue builds up and accumulates into we call adhesions. As these adhesions form, they affect the normal health and function of the muscles and related joints. In fact, they often lead to pain, tightness, stiffness, restricted joint motion, and diminished blood flow. This places even further strain on the neck muscles, which in turn leads to more micro-trauma. A repetitive- strain-injury-cycle is set up, causing continued adhesion formation and progressive cervical spine dysfunction.