My treatment with Dr. Alex Jimenez has been helping me by simply making me less tired. I’m not experiencing as many headaches. The headaches are going down dramatically and my back feels much better. I would highly recommend Dr. Alex Jimenez. He’s very friendly, his staff is very friendly and everybody goes well beyond what they can do to help you. – Shane Scott
A majority of the populations has suffered from this well-known nagging health issue, however, did you know that headaches can sometimes be caused by neck pain? While these headaches are commonly referred to as as cervicogenic headaches, other types of headaches, such as cluster headaches and even migraines, have also been determined to be caused by neck pain. Neck pain can develop due to a variety of reasons and it can vary tremendously from mild to severe.
Therefore, it’s fundamental to seek a proper diagnosis if you’ve experienced headaches or neck pain to determine the root cause of your symptoms as well as to properly determine what treatment option will be best for your specific health issue. Healthcare professionals will assess your upper back, or the cervical spine, including your neck, base of the skull and cranium, and also all the surrounding muscles and nerves to find the source of your symptoms. Before seeking help from a doctor, however, it’s important to understand how neck pain can cause headaches. Below, we will discuss the anatomy of the cervical spine, or neck, as well as demonstrate how neck pain is connected to headaches.
Table of Contents
How Neck Pain Causes Headaches
The muscles located between the shoulder blades, upper portion of the shoulders and those surrounding the neck, or cervical spine, may all cause neck pain if they become too tight or stiff. This can generally occur due to trauma or damage from an injury, as well as in consequence to bad posture or poor sitting, lifting or work habits. The tight muscles will result in your neck joints feeling stiff or compressed and it can even radiate pain towards your shoulders. Over time, the balance of the neck muscles changes and those specific muscles which are meant to support the neck become weak and can ultimately begin to make the head start to feel heavy, increasing the risk of experiencing neck pain as well as headaches..
Furthermore, the roots of the upper 3 cervical spinal nerves, which are found at C1, C2, and C3, share a pain nucleus, which routes pain signals to the brain, along with the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is the main sensory nerve that is in charge of carrying messages from the face to your brain. Because of the shared nerve tracts, pain is misunderstood and thus “felt” by the brain as being located in the head. Fortunately, many healthcare professionals are experienced in the assessment and correction of muscular imbalances which may lead to neck pain and headaches. Moreover, they can help to relieve muscle tension, enhance muscle length and joint mobility, and retrain correct posture.
What Causes Neck Pain and Headaches?
Cervicogenic headaches, otherwise known as “neck headaches”, are caused by painful neck joints, tendons or other structures surrounding the neck, or cervical spine, which may refer pain to the bottom of the skull, to your face or head. Researchers believe that neck headaches, or cervicogenic headaches, account for approximately 20 percent of all headaches diagnosed clinically. Cervicogenic headaches and neck pain are closely associated with each other, although other types of headaches can also cause neck pain.
This type of head pain generally starts because of an injury, stiffness or lack of proper functioning of the joints found at the top of your neck, as well as tight neck muscles or swollen nerves, which could trigger pain signals that the brain then interprets as neck pain. The usual cause of neck headaches is dysfunction in the upper three neck joints, or 0/C1, C1/C2, C2/C3, including added tension in the sub-occipital muscles. Other causes for cervicogenic headaches and neck pain can include:
- Cranial tension or trauma
- TMJ (JAW) tension or altered bite
- Migraine headaches
- Eye strain
The Link Between Migraines and Neck Pain
Neck pain and migraines also have an intricate connection with each other. While in some cases, severe trauma, damage or injury to the neck can lead to severe headaches like migraine, in other situations neck pain might be the result of a migraine headache. However, it’s never a good idea to assume that one is the end result of the other. Seeking treatment for neck pain when the reason for your concern is in fact a migraine, often will not lead to effective pain management or pain relief. The best thing that you can do if you’re experiencing neck pain and headaches is to seek immediate medical attention from a specialized healthcare professional in order to determine the cause of your pain, as well as to determine the root cause of the symptoms.
Unfortunately, neck pain, as well as a variety of headaches, are commonly misdiagnosed or even sometimes go undiagnosed for an extended period of time. As a matter of fact, one of the top reasons as to why neck pain may be so difficult to treat is primarily because it takes a long time for people to take this health issue seriously and seek a proper diagnosis. Waiting an extended amount of time to take care of your neck pain, especially after an injury, may lead to acute pain and it may even make the symptoms more difficult to control, turning them into chronic pain. By the time a patient seeks diagnosis for their neck pain, it may have already been a persistent problem. Also, the most frequent reasons people seek treatment for neck pain and headaches include:
- Chronic migraines and headaches
- Restricted neck function, including difficulties moving the head
- Soreness in the neck, upper back and shoulders
- Stabbing pain and other symptoms, particularly in the neck
- Pain radiating from the neck and shoulders to the fingertips
Aside from the symptoms mentioned above, individuals with neck pain and headaches can also experience additional symptoms, including nausea, diminished eyesight, difficulty concentrating, severe fatigue, and even difficulty sleeping.While there are circumstances in which the cause of your headaches or neck pain may be apparent, such as being in a recent automobile accident or suffering from sport-related trauma, damage or injuries, in several instances, the cause may not be quite as obvious.
Because neck pain and headaches can also develop as a result of bad posture or even due to nutritional problems, it’s fundamental to find the origin of the pain to increase the success of treatment, in addition to enabling you to prevent the health issue from happening again in the future. It’s common for a healthcare professional to devote their time working with you to ascertain what could have caused the pain in the first place.
A Health Issue You Can’t Ignore
Neck pain is typically not a problem which should be ignored. You may think that you’re only experiencing minor neck discomfort and that it’s irrelevant to any other health issues you may be having, but more frequently than not, you can’t know for sure till you receive a proper diagnosis for your symptoms. Patients who seek immediate medical attention and treatment for their neck-centered problems are surprised to learn that some of the other health issues they may be experiencing may actually be correlated, such as in the case of neck pain and headaches. Thus, even in the event that you think you can “live with” not being able to turn your neck completely, other health issues can develop, and these problems might be more challenging to deal with.
There are circumstances in which a pinched nerve in the neck is the main reason for chronic tension headaches, where a previous sports injury that was not properly addressed before is now the cause of the individual’s limited neck mobility and in which a bruised vertebrae at the base of the neck induces throbbing sensations throughout the spine, which radiates through the shoulders into the arms, hands and fingers. You might also blame your chronic migraines on a hectic schedule and stressful conditions, however, it might truly be a consequence of poor posture and the obligated hours that you spend hunched over a computer screen. Untreated neck pain might even lead to problems you might never expect, such as balance problems or trouble gripping objects. This is because all the neural roots located on the upper ligaments of the cervical spine, or neck, are connected to other parts of the human body, from your biceps to each one of your small fingers.
Working with a healthcare professional to relieve the root cause of your neck pain and headaches may significantly enhance your quality of life and may be able to eliminate other symptoms from turning into a significant problem. While the most common causes of chronic migraines are generally caused by another health issue or nutritional deficiency, you might also be amazed to learn how often the outcome is something which may be resolved with concentrated exercises and stretches recommended by a healthcare professional, such as a chiropractor. Additionally, you may understand that the health issues you’ve been having often develop from compressed, pinched, irritated or inflamed nerves in your upper cervical nerves.
Dr. Alex Jimenez’s Insight
Although it may be difficult to distinguish the various types of headaches, neck pain is generally considered to be a common symptom associated with head pain. Cervicogenic headaches are very similar to migraines, however, the primary difference between these two types of head pain is that a migraine occurs in the brain while a cervicogenic headache occurs in the base of the skull or in the cervical spine, or neck. Furthermore, some headaches may be caused by stress, tiredness, eyestrain and/or trauma or injury along the complex structures of the cervical spine, or neck. If you are experiencing neck pain and headaches, it’s important to seek help from a healthcare professional in order to determine the true cause of your symptoms.
Treatment for Neck Pain and Headaches
Foremost, a healthcare professional must determine the cause of an individual’s symptoms through the use of appropriate diagnostic tools as well as to make sure they have the utmost success in relieving the headache and neck pain without prolonging the duration of the symptoms and extra cost of incorrect therapy. Once an individual’s source of neck pain and headaches has been diagnosed, the kind of treatment a patient receives ought to be dependent on the type of headache. As a rule of thumb, treatment starts once the diagnosis has been made. A healthcare professional will work with you to create a treatment plan that’s appropriate for your specific health issues. In your sessions, you’ll be taken through procedures that help build flexibility and strength.
Chiropractic care is a well-known, alternative treatment option which focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a variety of musculoskeletal and nervous system injuries and/or conditions. A doctor of chiropractic, or chiropractor, can help treat neck pain and headache symptoms by carefully correcting any spinal misalignments, or subluxations, in the cervical spine or neck, through the use of spinal adjustments and manual manipulations, among other therapeutic techniques. Chiropractors, as well as physical therapists, may also utilize a combination of gentle Muscle Energy Techniques, muscle building, joint slides, cranio-sacral therapy, and specific posture and muscle re-education to lower the strain being placed on the structures surrounding the cervical spine. The staff will also help you understand how to better position yourself during your daily life to prevent relapses, like ergonomic and posture tips. Contact a healthcare professional in order for them to be able to assist you immediately.
In cases where alternative treatment options have been utilized without any results, or sometimes simply being used together with other complementary treatment approaches, pain drugs and/or medications may be contemplated, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anti-seizure agents such as gabapentin, tricyclic anti-depressants, or migraine prescriptions. If pain medications prove ineffective, then injections may be contemplated, including peripheral nerve blocks, atlantoaxial joint block administered at C1-C2, or aspect joint blocks administered in C2-C3. Surgical interventions may also be other treatment options, however, healthcare professionals suggest attempting all other treatment options before considering surgery. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic as well as to spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez
Additional Topics: Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most prevalent causes for disability and missed days at work worldwide. As a matter of fact, back pain has been attributed as the second most common reason for doctor office visits, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Approximately 80 percent of the population will experience some type of back pain at least once throughout their life. The spine is a complex structure made up of bones, joints, ligaments and muscles, among other soft tissues. Because of this, injuries and/or aggravated conditions, such as herniated discs, can eventually lead to symptoms of back pain. Sports injuries or automobile accident injuries are often the most frequent cause of back pain, however, sometimes the simplest of movements can have painful results. Fortunately, alternative treatment options, such as chiropractic care, can help ease back pain through the use of spinal adjustments and manual manipulations, ultimately improving pain relief.
The information herein on "Understanding Neck Pain and Headaches" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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