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  • Writer's pictureDr. Brandon

Could your neck be the cause of your headache?

Let’s face it, there is nothing fun about a headache. For many headache sufferers and especially those that suffer from migraines, there is an all too familiar pattern. Whether they are migraines that build as the day goes on or those headaches that are there from the moment you wake up, many headaches share a common and often untreated source, the neck. In this post, learn how neck pain and stiffness can cause headaches, learn what simple fixes you can do to start to ease them, and learn how to treat them naturally and without medication.

What causes headaches and how can the neck cause a migraine?

People who study headaches have found that there are about 14 different types of headaches. Some have food, hormonal, or chemical triggers. Some find that they have multiple triggers for their headaches. This post mostly covers the impact of the neck on migraines, tension headaches, and what is known as a neck headache or a cervicogenic headache. In fact, many headaches often go misdiagnosed as tension headaches or migraines and are given medications that may give relief but usually don’t get to the underlying causes of why the headache is triggered in the first place which in many cases are actually caused by problems in the neck. So, how can the neck cause a headache? First, this is an example of referred pain. In this case, posture, poor office set-up, pinched nerves or even strained muscles put the squeeze on several nerves that come off the base of the skull in the back. These nerves go up and over the head and when we have poor posture, strained muscles, or even neck arthritis, they often get squeezed and irritated often causing headaches.

What are the symptoms of a neck headache?

Neck headache symptoms often look and feel like a migraine. They can make you sensitive to light and sound, you can get dizziness from a neck headache. Often one of the main symptoms of a neck headache or cervicogenic headache is that it is often on one side only at a time. What this means is that when your headache is happening, you notice it either on your right or left side anywhere from the middle of your neck up the back and top of your head and even behind your eye on that side. This doesn’t mean that if you get a headache on the other side of your head that it is not coming from your neck but they are usually on one side at a time.

How can I tell if my headache is coming from my neck?

Figuring out what kind of headache you are dealing with is fairly difficult because many of the symptoms overlap. Cervicogenic headaches, like migraines, can cause you to be sensitive to light and sound, will sometimes make you nauseated, and may even cause you to be dizzy. Like tension headaches, you often feel like your head is getting squeezed and your muscles just won’t relax. In addition, you will probably find that it is difficult to turn your head or look over your shoulder either during the headache or in the build-up. Often you may find that when you massage the back of your head just below the base of your skull, you find that there are tight and tender areas that relax when you massage them. Often there is a pattern. For many, they find that their headache builds as the day goes on. This is usually because the computer screen is too low, your eyes get tired causing you to have to get closer to your screen just to see it, or that your posture muscles get tired and you start slouching and getting into a forward head posture or text neck posture. This position, where the upper back is rounded and the head is in front of the shoulders, is often one of the biggest triggers for a migraine headache, tension headache, or cervicogenic headache.

What if I have a headache when I wake up in the morning?

Do you deal with headaches first thing in the morning? Many people find that they have some of the same tender areas on the back of their head who suffer from headaches first thing in the morning. Many who suffer from headaches first thing in the morning have already tried several pillows or even expensive new mattresses mostly without relief. Sometimes this is because they have too many pillows which then elevate the head out of alignment with your spine. Others have a pillow that is too thin which does the same thing, especially when you are laying on your side. The key with the bed set-up is to find a position that keeps your spine aligned. If you’re a back sleeper, your ears should line up with your shoulder. If you’re a side sleeper, your spine should be straight and your head should not be tilted to the side.

What to do when fixing your posture or bed set-up doesn’t work

Often we find that when we make some of the changes, like improving our posture, getting better pillows or mattresses, or having a better office set-up that we can reduce the number or severity of the headaches but they don’t completely go away. Why? Often because some of the underlying causes of the headaches remain untreated. Often our nervous system becomes so sensitive that these fixes only partly calm down our nerves, ease our stiff necks or loosen tight muscles. Sometimes we try stretches or exercises that only aggravate our spine, muscles, or pinch nerves that then trigger a new headache. Sometimes there are other reasons why our neck is causing the headaches. Often there are other natural solutions to fix headaches. That’s why we offer free consultations to get to the root cause of your headaches.

During one of our free consultations, the Total Body Diagnostic, we offer expert advice about the worry and frustration of life-changing aches and pains – for FREE, in under 30 minutes.

If this article describes your story and you are looking for some help with neck pain or headaches, we offer FREE consultations, which give you the opportunity to come in and meet us and see for yourself how we can help you.

Here are just a few of the things you will learn in one of our free consultation:

  • What is the underlying cause of your pain? (hopefully nothing too serious!)

  • Roughly, how long will it take to fix the problem?

  • What to do to help – which doesn’t include painkillers, resting or surgery etc.

  • What other, natural, drug free methods are there to speed up recovery alongside treatment?

Our consultations are great for anyone that may be “unsure” if physio is right for them, and they give you the opportunity to ask questions and see for yourself if we can help you.

If you’d like one of our limited free consultation sessions, please click here to request your Total Body Diagnostic or CALL us on 850-765-2779 to make a no-obligation enquiry.

About the author

Brandon Alkire, DPT, CSCS, FMS, Cert. DN

Doctor of Physical Therapy and Strength Coach

Dr. Brandon is the owner and a Physio at Body Mechanix Physiotherapy and Fitness.

Four of his favorite people call him daddy while he's been married to his other favorite person for over 18 years. He enjoys teaching martial arts and is a Mestrando in Capoeira while in the mornings, he can be found working out with the guys in F3 around town.

He's the author of 4 pain relief guides for neck, low back, shoulder, and knees and the lead contributor to the Active Tallahassee Blog.


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