Deep Neck Flexors: If You Have Chronic Headaches with Neck Pain You’ll Want to Get to Know these Muscles

By Chris Centeno, MD /

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Do you have headaches with neck pain? Believe it or not, many headaches come from the neck. In fact, if the upper neck is painful, you’ll likely feel it in your head. In addition, many nerves in the upper neck that go to the head can get irritated when the neck muscles are tight, leading to a headache. What does all of this have to do with deep neck flexors? The neck has deep muscles in the front called the longus colli and capitus (see below). Their function is to provide stability to the neck from the front. If you want to learn more about stability, take a few minutes to read the stability chapter of our book, Orthopedics 2.0. So as an example, consider our video above of what happens when the deep neck flexors are off line. The neck bones are like kids building blocks that have to be kept aligned against one another with millimeter level precision while you move. Why? The spinal nerves come out between these bones and your the spinal cord runs through a hole in the middle of all of them. So when any individual bone isn’t held precisely at a certain angle against the one next to it, a neck disaster can result, as a nerve, the spinal cord, or the neck joints can get pinched, leading to a major neck pain episode. So if you click on the video above, notice how the neck bones (the colored blocks) move haphazardly as the head comes up. These all should be perfectly aligned. This is what happens when your deep neck flexors are weak. In particular, the research has shown that weak deep neck flexors are associated with headaches and those headaches tend to go away with strengthening in some patients. When the headaches don’t go away, you need to look at what may be causing the muscles to get weak, like irritated nerves or joints in the neck. The next post will focus on how you can tell if you have this problem and what you can do at home to try and solve it.

headache with neck pain

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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