Why Neck Pain Causes Headaches

Unfortunately, neck pain does not always remain in one spot, which would be bad enough. You may already know that pain in your neck can work its way into your head, across your shoulders, and even down your arms. But why is that?

Patrick Doherty, MD, is a board-certified neurosurgeon who can answer that question. Dr. Doherty leads the team here at Yale Neurosurgery New London in New London Connecticut. He is greatly respected and widely appreciated for his medical skill and expertise in treating difficult-to-manage spinal conditions, including those that lead to neck pain.

Find out what our skilled neurosurgeon, who prescribes minimally invasive treatment rather than surgery whenever possible, has to say about neck pain and why it causes headaches.

What causes neck pain?

Neck pain is a common complaint that we can trace to a wide variety of issues, which may include:

Any of these conditions can result in neck pain that travels to nearby regions, such as your shoulders, arms, and head.

How does a problem in my neck cause pain in my head?

The simple answer to why neck pain causes head pain is “nerves.” More specifically, the pain comes from the way that sensory nerve fibers that transmit messages from your neck interact with sensory nerve fibers that carry pain signals from your head and face to your brain. This interaction can result in the transfer (referral) of pain sensations from your neck to your head.

Headaches that develop due to neck problems are called cervicogenic headaches, meaning their point of origin (genesis) lies in the bony and soft tissue structures of the neck (cervical) region.

How do you know it’s my neck and not my head causing the pain?

Cervicogenic headaches can be difficult to diagnose since the symptoms mimic other headache disorders, including migraines. In fact, many chronic headache conditions include neck pain as a common symptom.

However, extensive research published by the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association estimates that about 20% of chronic headache complaints are due to cervicogenic headaches. This means that standard headache treatment will not relieve your symptoms since they don’t address the cervical cause.

At Yale Neurosurgery, your initial evaluation for persistent head or neck pain includes a detailed discussion of your symptoms, physical exam, and diagnostic testing such as X-rays and other imaging studies to identify the origin of your symptoms. From there, we develop individualized treatment strategies that relieve your symptoms and address the underlying condition.

Remember that you don’t have to live with chronic neck pain or the resulting headaches. For effective treatment that’s aimed at improving your quality of life, schedule a visit at Yale Neurosurgery New London today.

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