Headache Neck Pain

Symptoms & Treatment Related To Headache And Neck Pain

A headache with neck pain may be related to muscles which refer pain to the head. We have discussed strain of the neck muscles and detailed how a muscle may radiate pain from the neck to areas of the head. A particular area located in the neck is most often related to headaches.

headache neck pain

The muscles illustrated here are related to headache from the jaw line to the side of the head. The “X” marks the area of strain and the red areas indicate pain referred to the head. This area is important because many of the neck muscles involved in a headache connect to the area right above at the base of the skull.

Sometimes when you have a headache, you will feel the sore muscles at the top of the neck

The first thing if you have a headache and neck pain is to make sure you do not have a fever, as this could indicate a more serious problem requiring immediate medical attention.

This type of headache neck pain we are talking about may be related to chronic muscular strain of the neck associated with changes in posture of the head and neck, muscle tension and stressful situations at work or home. Movement may create pain from the neck to the corresponding area in the head. Pain ranging from mild to more severe may be associated with this, however there is no throbbing and the pain may change, increasing or decreasing when pressing into the muscle. The headache can vary in duration and may only be a couple of hours to couple of days or even weeks.

This headache neck pain usually responds well to the neck exercises, posture correction methods including ergonomic modifications when sitting and working, stress reduction techniques and direct muscle massage treatment of the area where the muscles attach. Tools used for treating the upper neck muscles, like the headache release tool, can effectively treat deep into those specific muscles using the weight of the head and gravity, reducing spasm of neck related headache muscles and for self massage while lying down. They are based on an occipital release method of myofascial therapy.

muscles related to headaches

  • A 2015 article in Current Pain and Headache Reports indicates trigger points can create nervous system changes are able to reproduce headache patterns of migraine, crevicogenic and tension headaches. The author indicates treating these muscle areas may have positive effects for these headaches.

Types Of Headaches Related To Neck Pain

The muscles under the base of the skull can refer pain to the head. Other causes for headache and neck pain may result from irritation to other pain sensitive regions of the neck. A cervical disc problem and/or neck joint irritation can cause pain to radiate, resulting in head pain. Conditions producing this type of headache may be associated with disc degeneration. As many as 2 out of 10 who suffer from a chronic headache may have neck related headaches and it may be as high as 4 out of 10 in women.

We know there many types of headaches, but there are commonly 3 types of headaches that have evidence linking headache and neck pain. There are others, but 3 main headaches; tension, migraine and cervicogenic can be directly related to the neck.

Cervicogenic headaches are directly neck related headaches and get their name from cervico (cervical or neck) and genic (generated), so neck generated headache. Tension headaches are often related to tension of the neck and shoulder muscles. Recently, the journal Postgraduate Medicine did a study, which indicates a direct correlation between a migraine headache and neck pain.

  • A 2015 study in the journal Headache found specific neck muscle dysfunction in peak forces and coactivation with pain in those patients with chronic migraine headaches.
  • A 2016 study in the journal Cephalalgia found that sufferers of tension headaches had decreased neck muscle strength and balance. The authors found that compared to healthy, non-headache sufferers, the extensor muscles in the back of the neck were weaker and there was an imbalance between the ratio between extension and flexion.

Related Symptoms

Lets look at some symptoms that suggest headaches related to neck pain. This is specific for cervicogenic headaches and a good way to determine if this might be the problem related to your headache symptoms that could benefit from neck therapy methods.

Neck Related Headache (Cervicogenic Headache) Must Include At Least 1 Of The 3 Factors Below: The headache comes after:
1) Motions of the neck or
Extended periods of awkward head posture
Pain in the base of the skull or top half of the neck on headache side
2) Restriction of neck motion
3) Pain in the neck, shoulder or arm
If you have checked all 3 of the above, there is a high probability that the headache is directly related to the neck.
Neck Related Headache Characteristics
Possible neck injury history (sprain/strain, whiplash)
Headache just on one side
Sometimes headache on both sides
Pain location at front of head, sides of head or around the eyes, base of skull
Headache can last for hours or even days
Headache starts with neck pain
Moderate to severe headache pain
Not a throbbing headache
Pain not sharp
Additional Possible Features
Light sensitivity
Sound sensitivity
Swallowing difficulty
Eye swelling on headache side
Eye tearing on headache side

Headache with neck pain may be responsive to specific Chiropractic adjustment, therefore seeking a consult may be advisable.

  • A 2020 study in Pain Physician indicates neck related cervicogenic headache is characterized cervical spine dysfunction, getting worse by neck movements, continuous head placement in an awkward position, and is commonly seen after whiplash injuries. The authors concluded, “Pain mechanisms need to be elucidated by detailed analysis of the whole spinal alignment using different methods investigating ligament, muscle, and spinal changes in the upper cervical region in this patient group.”

As we have seen, causes related to a headache and neck pain vary. A doctor should be consulted with in diagnosing the possible causes. A headache may be related to medications, food allergies or may be indicative of a life threatening condition such as meningitis, which typically presents with headache neck pain & fever, therefore, this should be taken seriously.

  • A 2021 study in Scientific Reports reported on headaches and neck pain in children who are spending more time reading and using digital screens, and near tasks intensify the workload on coordination of visual and head stabilizing systems. The authors indicated, “That uncorrected vision problems are related to upper body musculoskeletal symptoms and headache, indicate that all children with these symptoms should have a full eye examination to promote health and academic performance.”

Author Bio

Stephen Ornstein, D.C. has treated thousands of neck, shoulder and back conditions since graduating Sherman Chiropractic College in 1987 and during his involvement in Martial Arts. He holds certifications as a Peer Review Consultant from New York Chiropractic College, Physiological Therapeutics from National Chiropractic College, Modic Antibiotic Spinal Therapy from Dr. Hanne Albert, PT., MPH., Ph.D., Myofascial Release Techniques from Logan Chiropractic College, and learned Active Release Technique from the founder, P. Michael Leahy, DC, ART, CCSP.