Sometimes, headaches can be a real pain in the neck.
Find out the most common causes (and the best treatment) for neck pain and headache.
Here it comes: the tell-tale twinge of pain and pressure that indicates a headache is imminent. But if that wasn’t bad enough, your neck has started to tense up. Now you feel the ache almost down through your shoulders. It’s enough to make you wonder why they even call it a “head” ache.
Whether you feel your neck pain at the onset of your headache, or throughout the entire episode, your primary concern is making it stop. But it’s just as important to understand why you’re feeling neck pain and headache.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the most common causes of neck pain and headache as well as how to treat it.
Often called “stress headaches,” tension headaches are arguably the most common type of headache, affecting nearly 80% of the population at some point in their lives. Whether you suffer from chronic tension headaches (that is, 15 or more days out of the month) or only the occasional ache, you’ve probably wondered if there is something you can do to prevent them in the future.
Tension headaches are caused when the suboccipital muscles—located just under the base of the skull—become tight or tense, putting pressure on the surrounding nerves.
Tension headaches are often described as an ache or pressure around the head. They may even begin at the base of the skull before moving upward. Unlike migraines, tension headaches are felt on both sides of the head equally and do not usually cause nausea or blurred vision. However, you may feel a tightness in your jaw, neck, or shoulders.
There are a number of things that can cause the suboccipital muscles to tense up, including stress, poor posture, dehydration, trauma to the area, or even excessive tooth grinding.
Much like tension headaches, cervicogenic headaches are a result of referred pain. This is when an injury or other issue causes you to feel pain in another area. Unlike a tension headache, however, cervicogenic headaches are not caused by issues with the muscles, but with the vertebrae.
When joints are misaligned in your neck, spine, or anywhere else throughout your body, the nerves that run between and through then can become pinched. This sends pain along the path of the nerve. Thus, a pinched nerve in your lower back can cause you to feel the pain of sciatica down your hips, buttocks, or leg.
Also unlike tension headaches, your neck pain may be primarily on one side.
Those who suffer from it are all too familiar with the distinctive pain of occipital neuralgia. Where a tension headache or migraine might feel like pressure or a throbbing ache, occipital neuralgia feels more like electric shocks in your neck, head, or behind your ears. It is common to feel tenderness in the scalp as well.
The tingling, piercing jolts are caused by a compression of the nerve in the upper neck, either by tense muscles or a misalignment of the vertebrae.
While neck pain is a common symptom associated with migraines (often occurring before or during a headache), recent evidence suggests that neck pain is a symptom of your migraine, not a cause.
Unlike other types of headache, your brain is the source of a migraine, not your muscles or joints. If you experience frequent neck pain associated with migraines, that is because your brain is sending pain signals to your neck.
How to Treat a Headache With Neck Pain
OTC painkillers may help in the short-term, but they can come with some unpleasant side effects. It’s best to focus on treating the underlying cause of the neck pain and headache. This is where a chiropractor can provide tremendous relief through adjustments and/or massage therapy.
Chiropractic adjustments work by restoring proper alignment to the vertebrae, relieving pressure on the nerves. And if tense muscles are to blame, a medical massage therapist can help loosen them and release any trigger points.
As with most things, preventing pain is a much better method than treating it. To prevent neck pain headaches, you’ll want to incorporate some changes into your lifestyle. Practice good posture, stretch frequently, stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and get regular chiropractic adjustments to keep your joints in proper alignment.
Changing up your workstation (especially if you’re working from home!) can also help relieve the strain on your suboccipital muscles.
Fast Relief From Neck Pain and Headache
Headaches are bad enough, even without accompanying neck pain, but you don’t have to take neck pain and headache lying down. With regular chiropractic care, you can significantly decrease your discomfort without relying on drugs, surgical intervention, or lengthy physical therapy sessions.
At Oviedo Chiropractic, we have assembled a staff of chiropractors and massage therapists to give you a variety of modalities to treat your neck pain and headache. As always, we will take the time to educate you on any issues we discover and the best methods for treatment.