People may occasionally experience neck pain with a headache.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, when people experience a headache with pain in the neck, they are likely experiencing a cervicogenic headache.
Keep reading for more information on the types of headaches that have associations with neck pain, how to treat them, and when to see a doctor.
Causes and symptoms
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A tension headache may cause neck pain.
There are many different types of headaches, though the most common are migraine, cluster, and tension:
A tension headache is a slow-building headache. Pain in the neck may often accompany a tension headache.
Fatigue, stress, and muscle strain are often underlying causes of tension headaches.
Tension headaches often cause a throbbing pain that affects both sides of the head. The pain may affect the back of the head and feel dull.
Learn more about tension headaches here.
According to the American Migraine Association, a cervicogenic headache is a pain that results from conditions that affect the neck or cervical spine and its supporting bone and tissue.
In addition to head pain, a person may experience symptoms such as:
a limited range of motion of their neck
a headache that worsens as a result of specific movements
increased headache pain due to pressure on the neck
pain that typically occurs on one side of the head
pain that starts in the back of the head or neck and travels to behind the eyes
Learn more about cervicogenic headaches here.
The American Migraine Association note that there are connections between neck pain and migraines. A migraine is the result of a neurological condition that affects the brain.
Migraines often present in four phases. But a person may not experience each phase when they have a migraine. The phases include:
Prodrome: This phase can start up to 24 hours before the migraine and may include food cravings, mood changes, fluid retention, increased urination, and uncontrolled yawning.
Aura: This is a sensation of seeing flashing or bright lights. A person can experience this before or during their migraine.
Headache: A migraine headache often involves severe throbbing on one side of the head. Other symptoms may include sensitivity to light, increased pain with movement, sneezing, coughing, or vomiting, and nausea.
Postdrome: This results in a general feeling of exhaustion following the migraine headache that can last for about 24 hours.
According to a recent study of 50 participants, neck pain occurred alongside a migraine headache in about 90% of the people tested. The remaining 10% experienced neck pain at other points during their migraine. As a result, the researchers concluded that neck pain is not a trigger but instead a symptom of the migraine itself.
Learn more about migraines here.
Treatments and prevention
The following are some common treatments based on the type of headache a person may have.
Tension headaches often cause mild to moderate pain. In some instances, over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication or rest will reduce pain. But if the pain is persistent or occurs frequently, a person may need additional treatment options.
Some prevention tips for tension headaches include:
eating regular meals and not skipping any
getting regular rest
exercising each day for at least 30 minutes
avoiding triggers such as stress or lack of sleep
Learn about home remedies for headaches here.
A person who has a cervicogenic headache should see their doctor for treatment. Since the headache is the result of an underlying condition in the neck, treatments focus on the neck.
Typical treatments for cervicogenic headaches can vary, but may include:
using nerve blocks
taking pain medication
having physical therapy
doing regular exercise
Similar to tension headaches, treatment for migraines often involves improving the symptoms and preventing future migraines.
Some standard treatment options include:
using medications, such as pain relievers, triptan or ergotamine drugs
resting in a dark, quiet room
drinking plenty of fluids
applying a cool damp cloth or ice pack on the forehead
undergoing hormone therapy
writing down things that trigger the migraine headaches and try to avoid them
Learn tips for migraine relief here.
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When to see a doctor
Many people do not need to see their doctor for a headache. Often, taking OTC medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen or applying hot packs to the neck is enough to stop the headache.
According to the National Headache Foundation, a person should see their healthcare provider if:
the headache does not go away or gets worse
OTC medications do not stop the pain
the characteristics of regular migraines or headaches change
they need pain relievers for headaches more than twice per week
the headache interferes with daily activities
sexual activity, coughing, sneezing, exercise or bending over trigger the headache
they develop nausea or dizziness
A person should seek emergency medical treatment if they experience the following symptoms with the headache:
headache or migraine is the worst it has ever been
loss of consciousness
vomiting that will not stop
loss of vision
pain lasting more than 72 hours
presence of unusual symptoms
an intense “thunderclap” sensation in their head
weakness or numbness of the face or arms