• Q&A with Australian Health Experts

    Can neck pain cause headaches and migraines?

    I have a terrible neck that is always sore. Sometimes if my neck and shoulders become to inflamed it causes a migraine. Why does this happen?

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    Dr David Salisbury is an osteopath situated in Lilydale, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. He completed his osteopathic studies at RMIT University, and now ... View Profile
    It is very common for tightness in the neck and shoulders to cause a headache. This is called a cervicogenic headache because it is caused by the cervical spine (neck). This happens because tightness in the neck muscles and joints stimulates the nerves in the neck that travel into the head. This causes the pain to travel to the head and you get a headache.

    Neck issues causing a migraine are a bit less common (but still occur). What exactly happens in the head to cause a migraine is still not completely understood, but the current theory is that it is caused by a combination of changes in the nerves and blood vessels in the head.
    The neck can cause a migraine by stimulating the nerves that travel into the head (just like a cervicogenic headache), except that when the signals reach the head they cause a migraine. This usually occurs in people that a prone to getting migraines.

    Hope this helps,
    Dr David Salisbury - Osteopath - www.bdhh.com.au
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    Antony Lo

    Physiotherapist

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    Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist (trainee Specialist) in Marrickville, Sydney, NSW, Australia. I specialise in the spine, especially the thorax and pelvis (SIJ). I enhance sports performance, address ... View Profile
    The simple answer to your question is “yes, your neck can cause headaches and even trigger migraines”.

    Often migraines have triggers and I am sure you know your own triggers (smells, lights, sounds, stress, your mother-in-law, etc etc). Your neck can affect some of the nerves that come from your head (the Trigeminal Nerve) and affect the way the signal gets to the brain via the Trigeminocervical nucleus. This can be enough to “trigger” your migraine.

    The simplistic way I look at it is that your migraines come on when the “dam overflows”. All your triggers in the right amount fill up your “dam” and your migraines come when your ‘dam’ gets full.

    Your neck can make your “dam” shallower so less of your triggers are needed to start your migraine.

    As someone who suffers bad headaches, I have found exercise, specifically strength exercises, have helped my neck a lot and my headaches have decreased. I have also investigated what foods and allergens I have reactions to and I avoid these as well - all of this as well as some self treatment for my neck has improved my headaches (I used to get migraines but extremely infrequently now).

    Thanks

    Antony Lo - Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist - www.physiodetective.com
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    Helen Potter

    Physiotherapist

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    I am a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist located in Subiaco. My extensive experience and advanced qualifactions help me to: * diagnose your problem accurately * treat ... View Profile
     
    Neck related headaches (Cervicogenic) are, as Dr Salisbury has described above, quite specific to micro trauma stresses on the neck. The headache pattern is usually one sided and often relates to mechanical or postural triggers.

    They occur when the joints of the neck, or muscle imbalances related to poor posture, place strain on the upper part of your neck. These headaches respond well to specific physiotherapy techniques with postural correction and muscle retraining if needed. In the study “The Effectiveness of Physiotherapy for Cervicogenic Headaches - A Multicentre Control Trial" 2000 in which I participated as a treating therapist. We found that over 70 % of clients were over 70 % better. Most importantly, they were still better twelve months post the treatment program.
    People with sensitivity to migraine may find their neck pain triggers a migraine while others with migraine may find their neck is sore during and after.

    The most important challenge you have is to get an accurate diagnosis of your headache. Only then can you pick the best treatment.

    Helen Potter Specialist Physiotherapist Subiaco WA www.intouchphysio.com.au
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    Dr Matthew Holmes

    Chiropractor

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    I focus on the treatment of vertigo, dizziness and migraine using brain based treatments. View Profile
    Neck pain is a big cause of migraines and headaches.  Like others describe above there is a link between the neck and the head in the nervous system.

    When there are pain signals coming from the neck, they increase the activity of the pain nerve cells for the head, which makes it easier to cause headache.  There are many factors that come together to produce migraine and headache, but this is certainly one that has a big impact.  I describe the cases of migraine in more detail on my website a link to which can be found on my profile page.
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    Tony (Anthony) Stanley

    Physiotherapist

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    About: I graduated from the University of South Australia in 1997 as a mature age student. I have worked in the hospital setting until 2003. ... View Profile
    Migraines are a continuum of headache, and it is caused by the upper three cervical vertebra. It can also be triggered by other factors but it relates to that. My wife gets migraine and I am able to treat hers and relieve them.
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    Helen Potter

    Physiotherapist

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    I am a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist located in Subiaco. My extensive experience and advanced qualifactions help me to: * diagnose your problem accurately * treat ... View Profile
    Migraines can be more effectively controlled or managed now than previously with a combination of early specific medication and self help regimes. My suggestion is that you make a “longer” consulation time with your GeneralPractitioner to discuss these if you haven't already.

    There are new acute medications which are very helpful for some migraineures and there are “preventative” medications if your migraines are “out of control ” and occurring one or more a month.

    Your neck pain and muscle tightness are probably signs of your physical or mental stress aand posture during work or home activities. These can be treated effectively with active physiotherapy, postural retraining and workplace modifications. Don't forget that your general health, fitness and relaxation times are also vital to spend time on.

    Put yourself back in control by managing your migraines better.
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