What is the Relationship Between Headaches and Neck Pain?

Article Details
  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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If you’re reading this, then you’re likely seeking an understanding of how frequent headaches and neck pain can be connected. However, as you read on, sit up and take notice—literally. There is indeed a relationship between headaches and neck pain and the biggest culprit is poor posture. In fact, most people who spend several hours each day sitting in front of a computer do so while leaning too far forward or to one side. This is a prescription for strained muscles of the neck and pain that can migrate to your head.

To illustrate how it’s possible to connect the dots between posture, headaches and neck pain, it’s necessary to examine what happens to the first seven vertebrae of the spine while sitting in a hunched over position. The sternocleidomastoid muscle that runs from the back of your ear to the front of the neck becomes stretched, while the muscles in the back of the head have to strain to compensate for balance. This puts pressure on the occipital nerve, which is positioned at the small hollow at the base of the skull. Since this is a major sensory nerve, it’s the pathway by which neck pain can travel straight to your head.


While heeding your mother’s advice to sit up straight may help to eliminate headaches and neck pain, poor posture is not the only cause for this cyclic relationship. Trauma or injury to the spine or connective tissue of the neck can also lead to this syndrome. In fact, studies have shown that the frequency and severity of headaches and neck pain are significantly higher in people who have lost some degree of natural neck curve due to such injuries. One emerging therapy in these cases is the use of a Cervical Curve Correction Device (CCCD), an apparatus designed to gradually train the repositioning of the neck in a similar manner that orthodontic braces do for the teeth.

There is another possible route that headaches and neck pain can travel together and the journey starts from the ground at the feet and legs. For instance, the adductor muscles of the calves can become stressed by wearing high heels or even knee-high socks that are too tight. As inflammation and stress builds from forcing these muscles into an unnatural state, nerves fire off pain signals from the brain that bounce from the legs and feet to the neck, jaw, and head.

Aside from taking care to avoid muscle strain and poor posture, over-the-counter medications such as aspirin may help to reduce inflammation and pain. If headaches and neck pain fail to subside, however, massage therapy may be helpful. In addition, there is a non-invasive, non-drug treatment in the exploratory stages called Occipital Nerve Stimulation (ONS). Initial clinical trials indicate that this therapy may improve symptoms in those who are not responsive to other forms of treatment.



Discuss this Article

Post 3

@ocelot60- My doctor referred me to the physical therapist after I explained my concerns, but I think most doctors would have some suggestions about the best exercises for a patient's needs.

Post 2

@rundocuri- Thanks for the tip. I have been experiencing headaches and neck pain for a while now, and hadn't thought about stretching exercises as a possible treatment. I can see how doing them would help though, since it is important to exercise your muscles to keep them from becoming stiff. Did your doctor insist that you see a physical therapist first, or was he willing to recommend some exercises for you to try?

Post 1

I am very prone to headaches and neck pain, and I have found that stretching exercises work wonders. My doctor referred me to a physical therapist who taught me how to do the best stretches for my pain and pressure points. I do them daily, and as long as I say on regular stretching routine, I am free of headaches and the corresponding neck pain that I use to experience almost daily.

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