Can Neck Pain Cause Headaches?

can neck pain cause headaches
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Headaches are one of the most common conditions that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people suffer every day. In fact, approximately 75% of adults experience a headache at least once a year. They are also a common reason for missed work and school days. For those who experience more severe headaches, they can even affect their family and social life. If you suffer neck pain and headache pain at the same time, you may wonder, “Can neck pain cause headaches?”

At SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy, we can help you identify the source of your pain. If you’re experiencing head and neck pain frequently, it may be time to visit one of our specialists. We can treat headaches, throbbing pain, neck pain, and even shoulder pain. To schedule an appointment with a qualified provider, please call 469-200-2832 today. We will help manage or eliminate your neck pain and headache pain so you can return to your active life.

Neck Pain With Headache

Sometimes, it is possible to experience one type of pain because you are already experiencing another type of pain. Neck pain and headache pain can be connected. However, it can be difficult to understand this connection. With the help of our medical professionals, we can help you understand the connection between neck pain and headaches. Because the head and the neck are so close together, it makes sense that pain in one can cause pain in the other. How this connection happens depends mainly on where your neck pain and headaches come from.

Can Neck Pain Cause Headaches?

neck pain and headache

Yes, absolutely. Neck pain can give people headaches and vice versa. In fact, neck pain is often connected to certain types of headaches, such as the following.

Cervicogenic Headache

Cervicogenic headaches (CGH) are those which occur when neck problems produce referred pain that travels up to the head. Generally, these headaches produce a steady, dull ache. In most cases, cervicogenic headaches produce mild to moderate pain levels. Additionally, most cervicogenic headache cases are contained on one side of the head, face, or neck.

A cervicogenic headache is classified as one of many secondary headaches, meaning they only occur after other symptoms or conditions occur. Common causes of CGH include conditions or events that affect the cervical spine. Examples include sore neck muscles, pinched nerve, neck stiffness, muscle strain, trauma, infections, and even cancer.

Sometimes, a CGH can be difficult to diagnose. This is because it can imitate the head pain felt from primary headaches. Many people mistake cervicogenic headaches for migraines and tension-type headaches.

Occipital Neuralgia

If you have a pinched nerve in your neck, this can trigger a headache. This type of headache is called occipital neuralgia. Many sufferers of occipital neuralgia previously experienced or are currently experiencing a stiff neck, neck injury, or neck arthritis. This is what usually causes the pinched nerve.

Those with occipital neuralgia describe the symptoms as pain shooting through the occipital nerve. It can even feel like a shock of electricity, a stabbing pain, or a sharp, throbbing pain. Other symptoms include pulsating pain at the base of your skull, pain when there is neck movement, and even pain behind the eyes or on the side of the head. One rarer symptom is a sensitivity of the head and scalp.

While this condition is rare, it is often mistaken for other types of headaches, such as migraine headaches.

What Causes Neck Pain?

Did you know that the neck is technically just the cervical spine portion of the spinal column? It consists of seven vertebrae that surround and protect your nerves and spinal cord. The muscles, blood vessels, and skin surround these important bones. All these tissues and bones serve to protect the most important parts of your neck and nervous system. However, it is still possible to injure the neck either suddenly or gradually. The following are several ways in which you can injure your neck.

  • Obviously, suffering trauma or injury to the neck can lead to many different types of headaches over the years. For example, if you suffered whiplash in a car accident, this could lead to a stiff neck.
  • Even the way you drive can affect your upper neck and spine. It’s important to sit in car seats in a way that makes it easier for you to hold your head up. If you have to lean forward or strain your neck, this can cause pain down the line.
  • If you have poor posture, this can affect not only your back but also your neck. 
  • Even your sleep position can affect the health of your back and spine. Generally, the best position for supporting both your spine and neck is the back sleeping position.
  • Looking down at your phone and having poor posture at work can also cause a stiff neck.

What Causes Headaches?

The causes of headaches generally depend on their classifications. The two main headache categories are called primary headaches and secondary headaches. 

Primary Headaches

These are caused by overactivity or issues with the parts of your brain that are sensitive to pain. They are generally not an indication of another underlying issue. Other causes of primary headaches are chemical activity in the brain, the tissues surrounding the brain, the muscles in the neck, and even genetics. The following are the most common primary headache types.

  • Tension headache
  • Migraine headache
  • Cluster headache
  • Migraine headache with aura

Secondary Headaches

These are headaches that are associated with underlying diseases or conditions. Below, we list several examples of secondary headache causes.

  • Sinus infections
  • Blood clots
  • Tumors
  • TMJ disorders
  • Dehydration
  • Skipped meals
  • OTC medications or prescription medications
  • Other conditions or symptoms

Why Does Neck Pain Cause Headaches?

As we discussed previously, neck pain can cause headaches for a number of reasons. It ultimately depends on the source of the neck pain itself. The pain could either radiate up from the neck to the head or cause a secondary headache. 

Types of Headaches That Cause Neck Pain

While some headaches are caused by neck pain, there are certain types of headaches that actually cause neck pain. The headaches that most often result in neck pain include the following.

Tension Headaches

A tension headache feels like a band tightening around the circumference of the head. Those who get tension headaches usually feel pain all over the head instead of just on one side. Some also feel pain in their neck and shoulders.


Migraine sufferers often experience debilitating migraine symptoms. They could even be bedridden for days at a time. A migraine attack can produce throbbing pain on one side of the head and even in the neck. Symptoms include pain, nausea, and light sensitivity.

Cluster Headaches

A cluster headache can virtually come out of nowhere, striking hard and fast. They often produce terrible pain around or behind one eye. This pain can radiate to other parts of the face, neck, and head.

How to Relieve Headaches from Neck Pain

headache and neck pain

Treatment for neck pain depends mainly on the source of your pain. Pain relievers are generally a good starting point to relieve pain from migraine attacks, tension headaches, or other headache types. However, this is not a universal solution. Some other ways you can achieve pain relief include the following.

  • Apply heat therapy or cold therapy. Heat therapy helps to improve blood pressure and circulation in the area. Cold therapy helps with muscle spasms, inflammation, and headache pain.
  • Work on improving your posture. Refrain from slouching or holding your head forward for long periods of time. You might consider adjusting your computer monitor at work if its position causes you to strain your neck.
  • Apply compression to the temples, forehead, or back of the neck. This pressure can help if you have a stubborn tension headache.
  • Get enough sleep, but not too much. A lack of sleep or an excessive amount of sleep can both lead to a tension headache.
  • Visit with accredited wellness professionals. Many people have found success in alternative treatments, such as massages and acupuncture.
  • Try physical therapy. A trained Dallas physical therapist can help you practice certain relaxation techniques to help with chronic headache pain.
  • Try nerve blocks. Ask your doctor if this treatment option is right for you. If nerve blocks do nothing, your doctor might consider surgical repair of a nerve.

When Should I Worry About Headaches and Neck Pain?

neck pain headache

In most cases, a headache is just a minor annoyance or irritation. However, there are certain signs that indicate a deeper, more serious problem. You should consider seeking medical attention from a healthcare professional if you experience the following symptoms.

  • Sudden and intense headache pain
  • Fever
  • Nosebleeds
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Headache pain that wakes you from sleep
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurry vision or other visual disturbances
  • Seizures
  • Other unusual symptoms occurring alongside a headache

Contact SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy Today

The best way to achieve an accurate diagnosis of your headache pain is to speak with a trusted medical professional. At SPORT, we utilize only the finest diagnostic technology. This ensures that our headache and migraine patients get the high-quality care they deserve. If your neck pain is causing headaches, it may be time to seek professional help. To schedule an appointment with us, please call 469-200-2832 today.