Can neck pain cause headaches?

Neck pain can be an unfortunate visitor that can derail a good day. It can make a rough day even worse when it’s accompanied by a headache. You may wonder if your neck pain and headache are related. The answer is absolutely, and it can be a common occurrence. The neck and head are intricately connected. This connection is through a network of nerves, muscles and blood vessels. When something is wrong in your neck, it can send waves of discomfort up to your head, causing you a pounding headache.

Why does neck pain cause headaches?

Headaches are an experience that nearly everyone experiences. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 1 in 20 adults has a headache nearly daily. These headaches can be caused by neck pain. The muscles in your neck and shoulders can become tense due to:

  • Poor posture — In the digital age, slipping into poor posture is easy. You can sit hunched over your phone or computer for long periods and not realize that you are placing strain on your neck muscles. These muscles get knotted up and can trigger headaches.
  • Stress — Stress can cause your neck muscles to tighten, leading to a throbbing headache.
  • Injury — Injuries like whiplash from an accident can cause neck pain. This can be because your muscles tense up in an attempt to protect the injured area. However, it can leave you with a pounding headache and a sore neck.
  • Degenerative disease — Conditions like osteoarthritis and herniated discs can cause neck issues due to the wear and tear on your spine. It can start as muscle tension and nerve irritation and radiate to headaches.

Types of headaches caused by neck pain

The neck is the control center for your head. When the neck muscles become strained, they can cause referred pain. This means the pain originated in one part of your body (neck) but is felt in another (head). Neck pain can cause different types of headaches like:

  • Tension headaches — Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches associated with neck pain. An estimated 2 in 3 people experience these kinds of headaches. They are described as feeling like a tight band is around your head. They can be caused by muscle tension originating from the neck. The pain caused by these headaches can range from mild to moderate.
  • Cervicogenic headaches — Issues in the neck cause these headaches. They usually start in your neck and then radiate to one side of your head. Certain neck movements or positions can trigger these headaches or make them worse.
  • Migraines — Migraines can have multiple triggers, including neck pain. Neck muscle tension can also exacerbate migraine pain or the frequency of these headaches.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) headachesTMJ headaches are dull headaches that start at the temples and around the TMJ. It may resemble an earache.

How to relieve headaches caused by neck pain 

Neck pain can be the source of your discomfort that’s radiating to your head. The good news is, there are various ways to help your headache and treat the root cause of your neck pain. These treatments can include:

  • Improving your posture.
  • Improving your sleep habits.
  • Exercises and stretching.
  • Heat and cold therapy.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Over-the-counter medications.
  • Managing stress.

How can physical therapy help headaches caused by neck pain?

Physical therapy is not a restricted treatment reserved for injury and surgery recovery. It can provide beneficial pain relief to those who suffer headaches caused by neck pain. Physical therapists can help find the underlying cause of the neck pain and address it, using a variety of treatments including:

  • Manual therapy Manual therapy techniques like soft tissue manipulation and joint mobilization can be used to help alleviate muscle tension and improve joint mobility in the neck and upper back. By releasing tight muscles and boosting the range of motion in your neck, you may see a reduction in headache frequency.
  • Therapeutic ultrasoundTherapeutic ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to penetrate deep into affected tissue in the neck. It can help boost circulation, reduce muscle spasms and promote healing. It can be used in conjunction with other physical therapy treatments.
  • Therapeutic exercises — Your physical therapist may guide you through specially designed stretching and strengthening exercises intended to help improve your flexibility and muscle strength. These exercises can help release tension in specific muscles and improve your neck mobility. They can also help improve your shoulder stability and reduce strain on your neck by improving your posture.

When should you see a doctor?

Minor headaches and neck pain may respond well to at-home remedies or physical therapy. However, it’s crucial to seek medical attention if

  • The pain is severe and persistent.
  • The pain is accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness, blurred vision, weakness or speech difficulties.
  • The pain interferes with your daily life.

Lattimore PT can help you unravel the intricate web between neck pain and headaches

If persistent headaches and neck pain plague you, don’t let it interfere with your life any longer. Lattimore PT can help address your neck pain’s root cause and provide personalized and compassionate care. Our team of expert physical therapists has the power to help empower you to regain control over your life through a variety of techniques. Under the caring guidance of Lattimore PT, you can begin your journey to a life with less pain.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.

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