Most people have probably had a “crick in the neck.” But can it contribute to headaches?

Chances are, if you’ve got an office job, you’ve suffered from “computer hunch” — that pain in the neck and shoulders that can come from sitting too long in front of your computer (sometimes made worse by a pile of deadlines and a boss that won’t let up). While “computer hunch” isn’t a medical term, the pain you may feel in the neck and shoulders does have a basis in science.

That Crick in Your Neck? There May Be Several Causes.

Neck and shoulder pain will affect many people at some point in their life. There are various possible causes for neck and shoulder pain, and studies suggest that both physical and psychosocial (a combination of psychological and social) factors may contribute to the problem. 1

Physical factors include prolonged sitting, working in the same position for a long time, prolonged holding of a bent forward head position, forceful and repetitive tasks, working with the hands overhead, working with vibrating tools, and prolonged use of computers. 2

For example, a study of more than 1,300 office workers showed that those who spent more than 70 percent of their working time with the neck bent forward at an angle of 20 degrees or more were at an increased risk for neck pain. Similarly, workers who sat for more than 95 percent of their working time had twice the risk for neck pain than workers who hardly ever sat. 3

People may also experience neck and shoulder pain due to psychological or psychosocial factors, such as mental stress. High-strain jobs, or jobs that have high demands but low control (meaning little authority), have been shown to be associated with neck and shoulder pain in some people. Interestingly, a similar association with neck and shoulder pain has been found in workers with jobs that feature high demands and high control. 4

Can Neck and Shoulder Pain Lead to a Headache?

Headaches may often co-exist with neck and shoulder pain. Specifically, studies show that tension-type headaches often occur alongside an increase in tenderness in the neck and shoulder muscles. 5 Tender spots in the muscles or connective tissues of the body are often referred to as trigger points, and are painful when touched. Trigger points can be felt as nodules, or knots, in tight muscles. 6 7

In tension-type headaches, the pain is described as a band tightening around the head or a feeling of pressure in or around both sides of the head. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of adults experience them.

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1.    Walker-Bone K, Cooper C. Hard work never hurt anyone: or did it? A review of occupational associations with soft tissue musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper limb. Ann Rheum Dis. 2005;64:1391-1396.

2.    Fredriksson K, Alfredsson L, Ahlberg G, et al. Work environment and neck and shoulder pain: the influence of exposure time. Results from a population based control study. Occup Environ Med. 2002;59:182-188.

3.    Ariens GAM, Bongers PM, Douwes M, et al. Are neck flexion, neck rotation, and sitting at work risk factors for neck pain? Results of a prospective cohort study. Occup Environ Med. 2001;58:200-207.

4.    Rasmussen-Barr E, Grooten WJA, Hallqvist J, et al. Are job strain and sleep disturbances prognostic factors for neck/shoulder/arm pain? A cohort study of a general population of working age in Sweden. BMJ Open. 2014;4:e005103.

5.    The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd Edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013;33(9):629-808.

6.    Ge HY, Fernandez-de-Las-Penas C, Yue SW. Myofascial trigger points: spontaneous electrical activity and its consequences for pain induction and propagation. Chinese Medicine. 2011;6:13

7.    Fernandez-de-Las-Penas C, Fernandez-Mayoralas DM, Ortega-Santiago R, et al. Reffered pain from myofascial trigger points in head and neck-shoulder muscles reproduces head pain fatures in children with chronic tension type headache. J Headache Pain. 2011;12:35-43.



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