Don’t Let Neck Pain go to Your Head

By Tere Zacher

If you’ve experienced neck pain with headaches, there’s a good chance the two are related.

Most headaches don’t stem from the brain tissue or skull — these tissues don’t have nerve fibers that communicate pain — but rather, are related to input from your scalp’s nerve fibers, which are connected to other parts of your body, including your neck muscles. When a problem in your neck stimulates a nerve that leads to your scalp, it can cause a headache.

Likely Causes

Headaches that occur with neck pain are often caused by:

  • Stress. Tense neck muscles can lead to tension headaches.
  • Poor posture. Holding the head and neck in an awkward position for a long time, or sleeping with inadequate head and neck support can cause pain.
  • Poor lighting. Working in low lighting can lead to eyestrain and stiffness in your scalp and forehead muscles.
  • Vigorous gum chewing. This can strain head and neck muscles.
  • Migraine headache. These are thought to be related to the irritation of blood vessels in the brain. Sometimes neck pain and stiffness are precursory signs.
  • Cluster headache. These are often accompanied by tenderness in the neck.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. These conditions, which affect the jaw and neck, are often due to excessive jaw clenching or poor jaw alignment.
  • Meningitis. Symptoms often include headache, neck stiffness and fever.
  • Post-traumatic headache. An injury to the head or neck can lead to lasting headaches or neck or shoulder pain.

When to See Your Doctor

Talk with your doctor if you have headaches associated with neck pain, especially if the pain is severe or accompanied by neck stiffness, fever or sensitivity to light. He or she will be able to determine whether your condition is the result of tension or a more serious issue, such as a problem in the in the spine, shoulder or neck.

Headache Journal

Are you experiencing headaches or migraines on a regular basis? One way to help this process is to keep a headache journal. This records your headaches and their intensity, which will help your doctor with properly treating the problem. Feel free to take this page out of the magazine and copy it to use on your own.


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