Headache and neck pain

Why do I get Headaches and Neck Pain when I sit at my Desk?

Neck Pain

There are many different types of headaches and causes of headaches and neck pain, for the purpose of this article we will take a look at the basic Muscular tension headache, looking closely at the structures involved, some biomechanics, contributing factors and how we might be able to alleviate and reduce strain and stress in the neck. Contact one our our highly qualified physiotherapists if neck and shoulder pain continues.

Head and Neck Anatomy

Our body is an amazing network of pulleys and leavers that allow us to live our everyday lives.  Muscles will work for as long as they can in order to do what is needed however like everything, each structure has its role and responsibilities in creating an efficient environment.  Muscles will cover for others and help out every now and then, under continual use it will eventually burn out.  A muscle’s main mechanism is to contract and relax, it is this process that generates movement. Finer muscles utilise control and stability whilst larger muscles lack the finer motor movement. It is this constant use and load passing through the muscles and joints that creates trigger points and in turn musculoskeletal pain. 


1.   Skeletal Muscle:   

Striated muscle fiber that acts under voluntary muscle control.  There are many muscle fibers that make up one muscle and sometimes its the constant loading through only parts of the muscle that continually signals stress that then employs other muscles / muscle fibers to help and assist.








Muscles of the neck and Head Contributing to headaches :

Splenius Cervicus and Capitus :


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  1. bilateral contraction: extend head & neck.  
  2. unilateral contraction: rotate and laterally bend head & neck to the contracted (same) side

Pain :

Capitus has a point of stress, where once overused will refer pain to the crown of the head, Cervicus however will refer pain around the  eyes and   along the neck.



Sub - occipital muscles

Combined ActionBilaterally extends the head rotates the head to   the contracted side

PainLocalised pain wrapping around the head


Sterno-Cliedomastoid :


  1. Rotate s to side opposite of contraction
  2. Laterally flexes to the contracted side
  3. Bilaterally flexes the neck


Pain : Complex muscle as it has two part, however referral crosses around the head at the base of the skull, across the eyebrows and eyes. 



Upper Trapezius :

Action: elevation of the shoulders

PainRefers in a ‘C’ shape concentrating at the jaw, eyes and base of the skull




2.   Joints of the Neck and Head

Did you know your head weighs 5-7 Kgs!! Your head sits on a cylinder that connects it to the rest of the body.

Atlanto occipital Joint

This joint occurs between the base of the skull and C1 vertebrae

This Joint allows for :

  1. Flexion - Forward tilt/nod of the head
  2. Extension - Backward tilt of the head
  3. Lateral flexion- (left lateral flexion example provided below)
  4. Left lateral tilt of the head causes a contralateral glide of the occiput


Altanto axial C1 –C2

This joint is a primary mover in rotation it is the connection is between the first and second vertebrae. It key design features are the dens on which C1 rotates upon.  Ci is crucial in this as it different to other vertebrae, it form a circle

Why do I get headaches???

It is the constant use of the muscles coupled with the constant loading through these joints that gives rise to musculoskeletal pain and imbalances. Sitting at your desk for long periods, whilst might not be able to be helped, places the above structures under great strain and stressEverything we do is in front of us and thus its a natural habit to propel our body forward at what we are doing.  This has consequences, it means we are constantly using the same muscles, loading the same joints and thus constantly sending messages to our neural system to recruit these structures. 




What can you do to treat and relieve neck pain?

  1.  Take breaks and do some exercises to off load these muscles .
  2. Correct your posture when you remember to.
  3. Be aware of your lifestyle and body and when you start to feel sore try and stretch the tight muscles and remember we are designed for movement so get your body moving!


Neck Pain Physiotherapy

If you have neck pain, are suffering from a stiff neck, or you need to relieve tension in neck muscles why not try one of our physiotherapy sessions run by highly qualified physiotherapists.  


Unless stated Images taken from:

Travel and Simon, Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction, 2nd Ed. Vol. 2, 1999, part 1