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Causes of Neck Pain & Headache

By Erica Jacques ; Updated August 14, 2017

When you have both a headache and neck pain, you may wonder what is wrong. It is easy to understand getting a headache when you are stressed or neck pain because of the way you slept, but why would you have a headache and neck pain at the same time? Various conditions and their causes will be explored to better understand why these symptoms occur.

Common Headaches

Headache and neck pain occur together most often when they are part of more common headache disorders, such as tension-type headache or migraine while other times they can result from neck problems. Migraine is typically a severe throbbing pain on one side of the head with nausea and blurred vision. In contrast, tension-type headache is a mild-moderate pressing pain with muscles on both sides of the head and neck being tender to touch. The actual underlying cause for these conditions remains unclear, but increased sensitivity of pain-sensitive nerves may play a role. Daily stressors and emotional tension are the most frequent triggering factors. Less common triggers include, alcohol, changes in weather, inconsistent sleeping patterns and menstruation.

Trauma and Headaches

Trauma is another reason these symptoms occur together. Trauma often results in injury to neck or head muscles, joints or nerves. Such injuries are typically caused by sports or automobile accidents. A whiplash neck injury occurs with sudden backward and forward jerking of the head in rear-end automobile accidents. This can cause inflammation in neck joints which result in tenion-type cervicogenic headaches at back of the head. Neck muscles around these joints can develop tender points and myofascial trigger points, causing an aching pain mostly at the back of the head. Also, in some occupations there are an increased risk of neck injuries which can result in tension-type headaches.

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Cluster Headache, Fibromyalgia, TMJ and Neuralgia

Some other conditions to consider include cluster headache, which occurs mostly in men and causes severe pain in the temple and eyes, but also in the neck. Fibromyalgia and TMJ, mainly in women, have characteristic muscle tender points throughout the body or primarily around the jaw. Nerves in the neck may be responsible for occipital neuralgia or cervical radiculopathy that have similar symptoms. Infections that cause meningitis, and bleeding neck arteries or blood within brain membranes, usually from trauma, may cause carotid and vertebral artery dissection or subarachnoid hemorrhage, which also cause headache along with neck pain.

Seeking Medical Help

There are are other reasons for neck aches and headaches. Since establishing their cause is often challenging, you should consult a medical practitioner to determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. Regularly taking over the counter analgesics on your own, can in time lead to a more complex condition, chronic daily headache.

There are times when symptoms of headache and neck pain are even more serious. If you suddenly begin getting headaches and a stiff neck which you never had before, if you begin getting headaches with exertion, if the headaches suddenly or gradually come on more often or are more intense, if the prior headache pattern clearly changes, then get immediate medical care.

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