What to do When a Pain in Your Neck becomes a Migraine Headache


If you suffer from migraine headaches, you are probably well-versed in the signs and symptoms that tell you the storm is coming. But few people realize that one of the most common symptoms of an oncoming migraine headache is neck pain. In fact, three out of four patients surveyed who suffer migraines report neck pain as a co-symptom, and 60 percent report that neck pain precedes their headaches.

How Neck Pain Can Cause Headaches

When a headache originates with a pain in the neck, it is referred to as a cervicogenic headache because it begins in the cervical region of the spine. A cervicogenic headache can result from stress to structures in the neck, including the upper three neck joints, the disc between the C2 and C3 vertebrae, spinal cord coverings, and neck muscles. Pain signals travel from your neck to your trigeminocervical nucleus (TCN) in your brainstem, and your brain interprets them as a migraine headache.

Common causes of neck pain leading to headaches include:

  • Poor posture
  • Prolonged computer or cell phone use
  • Imbalanced muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle overuse
  • Sleeping with the neck angled
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Past or recent trauma to the cervical spine
  • Physical inactivity

When the structures in your neck are irritated or inflamed, or when muscles pull with uneven tension in the neck region, the nervous system can become irritated, sending pain signals to your brain.

Signs of a Neck Headache

Your cervicogenic headache will have distinct symptoms from other types of headaches. Some of the most common indicators that your headache is cervicogenic in nature include:

  • Headache radiating from the back to the front of your head.
  • Neck movement, sustained postures or sleeping positions seem to trigger the headache.
  • The headache is worse on one side of the head and does not change sides.
  • Massaging your neck and the base of your skull eases headache pain.
  • Your neck joints are tender to the touch, even without profound neck pain.

Treatment for a Cervicogenic Headache

While the traditional approach to headache treatment is to medicate to relieve pain, doing so will not get at the source of the problem, because it originates in your neck. A physical therapist or chiropractor can intervene to correct the issues in your neck, to alleviate current and future cervicogenic headaches.

Conservative treatment for cervicogenic headache includes:

  • Chiropractic  spinal manipulation
  • Other manual therapies
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Corrective exercises
  • Postural training
  • Other therapeutic modalities that address the nervous system

After treatment, pain is often quickly resolved, and some patients experience instant relief, departing the clinic pain-free. Your physical therapist will strive to identify the root causes of your neck and head pain and correct them, so you can avoid future episodes.

Head and Neck Pain Specialists in NYC

Whether you have just begun having headaches or have been living with them for years, your neck may be the source of your pain. The neck pain specialists at NYDNRehab are skilled at identifying the source of your headache pain, and prescribing treatment protocols that get at the source. You do not have to live with recurrent cervicogenic headaches. Contact NYDNRehab today, and see why we are the very best clinic for neck and headache pain in NYC.



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