Neck pain and headaches are often connected because a stiff neck, herniated cervical disc, or irritated spinal nerves can cause headaches. Headaches that result from neck discomfort or neck injury are called cervicogenic headaches. Pain in the back of your neck and head can also cause severe cluster-like headaches or tension headaches.
Neck pain and headache pain can cause a dull nagging, persistent pain in your neck or head. Depending on the cervical nerves affected, you may experience sharp shooting pains at the back of your skull, temple, or behind one eye. This type of headache pain can feel as if someone is stabbing you. Pains in the back of your head or neck pain can also travel down your spine and cause middle back pain or weakness in your shoulders.
A stiff neck that is a result of neck pain can also affect the range of motion in your upper body and head. For example, turning your head from side to side could aggravate the headache. Or, the neck pain could be so severe when you move your head that you have to move your whole body instead of your neck.
In this article, I will look at the various reasons why neck pain can cause headaches. Here you will also learn how to prevent neck pain and what you can do to relieve neck pain and headaches. You will also find answers to the question: when should you be concerned about a headache?
The Anatomy of the Neck
Your neck consists of 7 vertebrae that make up the top part of your spine or cervical spine. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that the back of your neck also contains important nerves that form part of your spinal cord. You also have trapezius muscles at the back of your neck.
The first vertebra (C1) attaches to the base of your skull and the last cervical vertebra (C7) attaches to the thoracic part of the spine that is at the top of your shoulder blades. Dr. Michael B. Furman, who is an expert in spinal conditions, says that between each vertebra are small jelly-like discs that act as shock absorbers.
Dr. Vinod K Panchbhavi, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Texas, says that there are also important arteries in the neck that allow blood flow to the head and brain. Your neck is highly flexible and allows you to turn and flex your head in many directions.
Any issue with the cervical discs in your neck, ligaments, neck muscles, or vertebrae can be a source of pain in the back of the head at the base of your skull and cause neck headache.
How Neck Pain Can Cause Headache
Because there are many factors that can cause a stiff neck, neck pain, and headaches, it can be difficult to diagnose the exact cause.
Dr. Michael B. Furman (quoted earlier) says that tears or splits in the cervical discs can push on the root of the spinal nerves. This can cause sharp shooting pains in the head, neck, and middle spine. Other degenerative cervical disc conditions can also result in burning neck pain and nagging headaches at the back of your head.
According to doctors from Harvard Medical School, cervical headaches can also result from issues with your scalp or muscles and joints of the neck. This can cause headache pain that feels as if your head is being squeezed in a vice. Or, neck pain and headache pain can become throbbing-like pain that could be due to blood vessels in your neck or head functioning abnormally. One or more of these problems can result in head pain with varying degrees of intensity.
Symptoms of Neck Pain and Headaches
Neck pain at the base of your skull and headaches aren’t the only symptoms of neck muscle strain or herniated cervical discs.
Dr. William C. Shiel, expert in rheumatology, explains that other symptoms of a neck headache can include any of the following:
- Neck pain that results in a stiff neck and problems moving your neck
- Shoulder pain caused by a pinched shoulder nerve
- Weakness in one of your arms due to neck pain or inflammation of your cervical spine
- A tingling sensation running over your shoulder blade and down one arm. You may also feel “pins and needles” at the base of your skull.
- Bruises and/or swelling if the neck pain and back of the head pain has been caused by an injury.
Neck Pain and Headaches – Common Causes
- Stiff neck
- Bad pillow or mattress
- Tension headaches
- Herniated cervical disc and pinched nerve
- Cluster headaches
- Occipital neuralgia
- Herpes simplex virus
Neck Pain Causes, Headache Causes, Cluster headaches, Tension headaches