People can classify headaches depending on where they begin and the intensity of pain felt. Certain headaches may just come and go, and you can easily brush them off as minor nuisances and use a good shiatsu massager to relieve the pain. You may, however, have a headache that starts in the neck which may lead to incapacitating pain.
What is a headache? It's an ache or pain located in the upper neck or head regions. These locations are common areas of pain related to the human body. Read on to know if you felt the pain coming from your neck that spreads to your head.
Headache That Starts in the Neck
Numerous people may feel headaches coming from the neck. These aches may come from a broad range of sources which may include a stiff neck, irritated spinal nerves, or a herniated cervical disc. The pain may cause a persistent but dull nagging pain on the neck or head.
Depending on the source of the pain, neck and headaches may let patients experience sudden or nagging pains coming from the base of the skull. Headaches at the base of the skull may even connect to the temple or behind the patient's eye. The pain felt is akin to a person stabbing to these areas.
Pain in the back of the head, at the base of the skull, or the neck may come from particular origins. A few reasons for the origins of these headaches include:
- Stiff neck or mobility problems involving the neck.
- Shoulder pain.
- Tingling sensations from the shoulder blade to the arm.
- Bruises or swelling in the neck and head areas.
- Weakness of one arm because of neck pain or inflammation.
The Harvard Health Medical School also lists the following items as some of the most common causes of headaches:
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Weather changes
- Consumption of certain food and beverages like chocolate
Neck pain and headache are commonly associated with each other. Like particular classifications of headaches, aches coming from the neck may vary depending on cause or intensity of pain. Patients may experience a headache of cervicogenic origin with pain associated with the neck.
The Three Major Types of Headaches
Physicians classify headaches into three common yet major categories:
- Primary. Includes cluster, tension, and migraine headaches.
- Secondary. A particular cause affected the core structure of the head and neck. These headaches may be caused by internal bleeding in the brain or tumors, meningitis, and encephalitis.
- Third. Headaches that involve facial and neuralgias pain. These aches tend to originate from the inflammation of the nerves found at the head and neck.
What is a Cervicogenic Headache?
Cervicogenic headaches are found in the second classification of headaches. It's a pain in the head coming from a particular area of the neck. Since it's a secondary headache, it means it came from another illness or physical concern.
If a patient has this neck pain headache, the ache comes from a disorder of the cervical spine along with its component bone, soft tissue elements, and/or disc. It's easy to misuse this headache's term; just because a person has a headache coming from the neck doesn't mean it's already cervicogenic in origin.
What are the Symptoms of a Cervicogenic Headache?
Cervicogenic headaches present patients with a steady yet non-throbbing pain found at the back and the upper portion of the neck or the base of the skull. The pain may extend downward to the shoulder blades, neck muscles, the brow, or forehead.
The following are common symptoms associated with this headache:
- Blurry vision
- Stiff neck
- Heightened sensitivity to light or sound
- Mobility difficulties
- Pain in one or both arms
Certain risk factors may also aggravate or involve the onset of these secondary headaches. These elements to consider include:
- Sleep difficulties
- Neck injuries (current or prior)
- Poor posture (e.g., constant cell phone use, slouching etc)
- Cervical disc problems
- Muscular stress
The Connection Between Stiff Necks and Headaches
Several headaches are often associated with pain coming from the stiffness of the neck. The stiff neck comes from the rigidity of the cervical spine (the top area of the spine). This intricate combination of working parts supports the head.
Damage done to the muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, vertebrae, and other elements in this area can lead to stiffness and pain.
A stiff neck headache will occur which can cause the patient's muscles in the neck and head area to tense up.
What Causes Headaches in the Back of the Head and Neck?
Several causes may lead to headache and neck pain. Certain headaches may come from pain originating from other locations in the body or from particular events. Tell your doctor where the pain originated to help the professional diagnose the underlying cause of the ache.
A few causes of headaches in the back of the head and neck may include:
- Poor posture
- Herniated disks
- Occipital Neuralgia
Specific locations may also indicate the exact classification of headache currently felt by the patient. For instance, if the pain is at the right side and back of the head, it may be a tension headache.
What is a Tension Headache?
Tensions headaches is a feeling of a tight band contracting around the head. The pain felt is mild to moderate in level, and it's also the most common type of headache. Despite its common nature, several people still don't understand the underlying causes of tension headaches.
A tension headache treatment is available from many pharmacies and drug stores. Patients suffering from tension headaches may try to change certain daily habits to carefully and efficiently manage the issue. For instance, fostering healthy habits may prove to be more effective than consuming medicines in certain situations.
The symptoms of tension headaches may include:
- A dull pain to the head
- Tightening sensation or pressure across the forehead to the sides and back of the head
- Tenderness of the scalp
- Soreness of the neck and shoulder muscles
Tension Headache Treatment
As mentioned in a previous section, there are medications to help ease away the pain from tension headaches.
Buy an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication to provide quick relief and treatment from a tension headache. A couple of examples are aspirin and ibuprofen.
Do note that these OTC medications should only be used occasionally as regular consumption may lead to further complications. A few non-drug-related effective solutions are available for head and neck pain relief.
A doctor may recommend a tension headaches treatment like:
- Stress management classes
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Stress management classes are programs to help patients cope with stress and relieve tension. Biofeedback is a relaxation technique targeting tension headache relief pressure points to help manage pain and stress.
CBT is a talk therapy that allows patients to learn more about situations that may cause additional anxiety, tension, and stress. Last, acupuncture is an alternative treatment for tension headache to help reduce stress and tension.
Tension Headache Home Remedy
OTC medications aren't always a requirement to help in the treatment of tension headaches. You can use a tension headache home remedy to reduce the chances of adverse effects surfacing from the use of OTC drugs.
Here are home remedies you can use if you're suffering from tension headaches:
- Drink an adequate amount of water every day.
- Consume an sufficient amount of magnesium.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Get more sleep.
- Avoid foods with high histamine content (e.g., aged cheese, smoked fish, cured meats, and fermented foods).
- Take advantage of essential oils.
- Start regularly consuming a B-Complex vitamin.
- Use a cold compress a quick tension headaches treatment.
- Drink caffeinated beverages like tea or coffee.
- Relax with yoga.
- Avoid strong smells.
- Keep away from nitrates and nitrites.
- Start and keep a fitness routine.
When Should You Worry About Headaches?
With several causes and severities of headaches, it may be difficult for certain individuals to tell if there's a need for worry during a headache.
Doctors may provide a diagnosis and a potential cure, but there are headaches that may require medical care.
The following are warning signs to consider when a headache may seem too much to bear:
- Headaches that develop after the age of 50.
- A sharp and sudden pain to the head, back of the neck, or connected areas.
- Headaches with increasing intensity.
- Headaches accompanied by other afflictions like stiff neck, decreased alertness, slurred speech, or visual disturbances.
- A change in the pattern of a headache.
- Headaches after receiving a blow to the head (e.g., whiplash).
- Head pain associated with movement or coughing.
- Incapacitating head pain preventing the completion of daily activities.
- Headaches in cancer patients.
- Headaches with a painful red eye.
- Pain and tenderness near or in the temple area.
If you feel one or a few of these factors to consider, don't hesitate to get in touch with a doctor as soon as you can. There might be an underlying cause to the headache which may require immediate concern and action.
What is a Migraine?
Aside from a tension headache and a cervicogenic headache, another common head pain is the migraine.
Migraines occur in fewer individuals as compared to tension headaches. However, migraines tend to be more severe than tension headaches.
The pain felt from migraines are more common to women than men. One of the common causes of this headache is a change in the patient's blood flow to the brain along with a modification to the nerve cell activity.
What are the Triggers of a Migraine?
Migraines may come without warning. Still, migraines may be set off by a particular trigger. Hence, the cause of migraines may differ for each individual. The following is a list of the most common migraine triggers:
- Changes in weather and the body's incapability of properly adapting to these alterations.
- Emotional stress.
- Lack of sleep.
- Loud noises.
- Strong smells.
- Bright of flickering lights.
Aside from the triggers mentioned in the list above, certain dietary habits may also trigger migraines. For example, a person skipping a meal or an overdose of chocolate may induce migraines. Consequently, high consumption of cured meats and fish may also lead to sharp pains to the head.
What are the Symptoms of Migraines?
Most migraines begin during sleep or in the evening. Migraine attacks may last for several hours and have numerous causes. Depression, fatigue, irritability, and sluggishness are common factors that may affect the increase of severe and sharp pains to the head and connected areas.
Majority of migraines develop without warning. It may arrive in an instant and the pain may leave people incapacitated. Certain cases of migraines bring about pain to only one side of the head. It often comes from around the eye and spreads to the back of the head.
The pain felt from migraines is throbbing and pulsating.
Nausea may often surface because of this pain. Migraine patients may also experience running noses, watering eyes, or nasal congestions.
How to Treat Migraines?
Spotting a migraine in its early stages may help control the pain without the use of non-prescription pain relievers. Caffeine, naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen are known to help in letting the pain subside before it gets worse.
Doctors may prescribe prescription medicines to migraine patients. These solutions may come in the form of nasal sprays, tablets, or injections. Work with your physician to find the underlying cause of the sharp head pain. The doctor may also present a treatment that works best for you.
Remember, an overdose of medications may lead to a rebound of headaches. It may even lead to a vicious cycle of drug consumption and headaches.
Aside from the headaches mentioned in this post, there are also headaches that may start in the neck such as medication headaches, sinus headaches, headaches from high blood pressure, and even ice cream headaches. Consult your doctor if you find these head pains difficult to handle.