Chiropractic Cervicogenic Headaches Treatment for Upper Cross Syndrome

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Headaches, posture, and neck pain quickly improved with treatment

Headaches, neck pain, muscle spasms, and poor posture are commonly seen in chiropractic offices. Desk and computer workers tend to slouch forward. This can produce overuse of the suboccipitals, trapezius, scalenes, and pectoralis muscles. Upper cross syndrome relates to alternating patterns of muscle spasms and weakness in the head, neck, and upper torso. People tend to lose flexibility in certain muscle groups, while experiencing spasm and loss of movement in others. As the muscle spasms continue to place stress and strain on the joints, it leads to restrictions in joints. Joint pain is a common cause of headaches and neck pain in many individuals.

Chiropractic and physical therapy can work to decrease the muscle spasms, tenderness, and trigger points in the affected muscles. Massage therapy is an excellent tool for decreasing muscle spasms and trigger points. We commonly complement massage therapy with Graston technique in the office. Graston technique utilizes stainless steel tools to slide along the skin and break up scar tissue and fascial adhesions. Scar tissue develops when muscles have not been sliding back and forth as they should. Increase scar tissue can complicate and contribute too many peoples muscle pain, neck pain, and headaches. Combining these treatments with exercises to increase strength in muscles, physical therapy plays an important role in treatment and recovery.

Chiropractic addresses the stuck joints of the neck and upper back. The stuck joints send signals to the brain signaling injury, which can lead to headaches in many individuals. This is very common when the stuck joints occur in the upper cervical spine, which is very prevalent in people who sit at a computer and slouch forward.

The study followed a fix 56-year-old writer who had constant one-sided headaches that would radiate towards the eye. These headaches had been occurring for many years. He had tenderness across the upper neck and back of the head. Trigger points were present through several major muscle groups. These trigger points would radiate pain when pressure was applied to the muscle. He had the traditional findings of decreased range of motion when looking over his shoulder, up, or down. He showed a static slouched forward posture, similar to many individuals who work at a computer.

It should not be a surprise that this person improved with chiropractic, physical therapy, exercises, and stretches. He had a reduced amount of headaches and neck pain very quickly. Follow-up visits tracked his progress over the next several months. His headaches had become nonexistent with the course of treatment.

This is one of the many stories we see every month. People come into the office with chronic neck and headache pain. They have resigned themselves to experiencing the pain for the rest of their life if not for years. Within a short course of treatment they begin to see benefits and immediate improvements in their pain. Very quickly their headaches begin to disappear for days at a time. Eventually the headaches become a thing of the past.

Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics

Volume 27, Issue 6 , Pages 414-420, July 2004

Upper Crossed Syndrome and Its Relationship to Cervicogenic Headache

Michele K. Moore, DC


To discuss the management of upper crossed syndrome and cervicogenic headache with chiropractic care, myofascial release, and exercise.

Clinical Features

A 56-year-old male writer had been having constant 1-sided headaches radiating into the right eye twice weekly for the past 5 years. Tenderness to palpation was elicited from the occiput to T4 bilaterally. Trigger points were palpated in the pectoralis major, levator scapulae, upper trapezius, and supraspinatus muscles bilaterally. Range of motion in the cervical region was decreased in all ranges and was painful. Visual examination demonstrated severe forward translation of the head, rounded shoulders, and right cervical translation.

Intervention and Outcome

The patient was adjusted using high-velocity, short-lever arm manipulation procedures (diversified technique) and was given interferential myofascial release and cryotherapy 3 times weekly for 2 weeks. He progressed to stretching and isometric exercise, McKenzie retraction exercises, and physioball for proprioception, among other therapies. The patient's initial headache lasted 4 days. He had a second headache for 1.5 days during his exercise training. During the next 7 months while returning to the clinic twice monthly for an elective chiropractic maintenance program, his headaches did not recur. He also had improvement on radiograph.


The principles of upper crossed syndrome and the use of exercise, chiropractic care, and myofascial release in the treatment of cervicogenic headache are discussed. A review of the literature indicates that analyzing muscle imbalance as well as vertebral subluxation may increase the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for cervicogenic headache.

Alpha Chiropractic & Physical Therapy believes in combing the specialties and experiences of a medical physician, chiropractor, physical therapist, and massage therapists for treating injuries. This comprehensive treatment approach often produces better results in less time by addressing the muscle and joint aspect to every injury. Our clinic is conveniently located to serve the Ahwatukee, Chandler, Tempe, and Gilbert communities. To learn more about our treatments please visit the Resource Pages or Home Page.