Headaches and neck pain seem to go hand in hand. In fact, according to the Migraine Research Foundation about 75% of migraine sufferers experience neck pain either before or during an attack. One of the main symptoms of the most common type of headache, tension headaches, is neck pain or stiffness. So what causes headache and neck pain to occur together? If you suffer from both of these symptoms, how can you find relief? Read on to learn more about the surprising link between headaches and the neck.
Tension Headaches and Neck Pain
Tension headaches are named for their primary trigger – tension or stress. For most people, tension and stress is stored in the neck and shoulders. This leads to pain and stiffness in the neck. The neck strain, in turn, leads to headaches. In what way?
At the top of the neck, right at the base of the skull, is a bone called that atlas that balances the head. When the atlas moves out of alignment, even by a fraction of a millimeter, it can affect brainstem function. The result can be headaches. In this way, stress has a direct effect on triggering headaches.
Migraine Headaches and Neck Pain
Brainstem function also plays a vital role in the onset of migraines. However, there are a few other factors that can come into play that also relate to the upper cervical spine. For example, the atlas helps to facilitate blood flow to the brain. When that free flow of blood is affected, certain parts of the brain may receive less oxygen. This is another key factor in the onset of migraines.
Finally, another cause of migraines may relate to increased intracranial pressure. When the upper cervical spine is out of alignment, cerebrospinal fluid may fail to drain properly. This can cause pooling of cerebrospinal fluid, leading to a chain reaction that results in migraines.
Confusing Migraines for Neck Pain
Headaches and neck pain are so closely related that one Italian study revealed that many migraine sufferers believe that their primary health issue is cervical disease. According to the study, the reason patients diagnosed themselves with this chronic neck problem was because of pain in the neck that was often triggered by weather changes and that was accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting as well as dizziness and vertigo.
The result of the study was that nearly two-thirds of the patients examined turned out to have migraines. The neck pain was simply one of the migraine symptoms. Clearly, this is a common mistake that people make when self-diagnosing, and it may be perpetuated by the fact that neck pain is almost never listed as a migraine symptom despite being one of the most common ones.
The Link Between the Neck and Various Headache Types
Let’s review the three ways the cervical spine can affect headaches.
- Brainstem function – The atlas protects the area where the brainstem meets the spinal cord. Any disruption in this area can lead to recurring or chronic headache problems.
- Blood flow – The cervical vertebrae have tiny loops of bone called vertebral foramen. These loops provide safe passage for the arteries that supply the brain with oxygen-rich blood. Any misalignment in the neck can kink the line and reduce proper blood flow.
- Cerebrospinal fluid drainage – With the upper cervical spine out of alignment, CSF may fail to drain properly. This can result in the pooling of cerebrospinal fluid and increased intracranial pressure.
Clearly, there are links between neck issues and headaches. It is no wonder then that neck pain and headaches are especially common after head and neck trauma. If you have ever experienced a concussion, a whiplash-type injury, or even a less serious injury in this sensitive area of the body, you likely have a misalignment that is affecting the three bodily functions noted above.
Natural Relief from Chronic Headache Conditions with Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care
Upper cervical chiropractic is a subspecialty of the field that specifically targets the bones in the upper neck that are located right at the base of the skull. Therefore, it can help with brainstem function, blood flow to the head, and cerebrospinal fluid drainage. What should you know about upper cervical chiropractic before scheduling an appointment?
- It’s gentle – If you are expecting to have your neck twisted and pulled, you may be surprised. Upper cervical chiropractic involves very precise and minute adjustments. Some patients don’t really feel anything move at all, although the results speak for themselves.
- It’s precise – Generally, there is some sort of diagnostic imaging involved. Everything from x-rays to thermographic imaging is used to pinpoint even the tiniest of misalignments because in this part of the spine, millimeters matter.
- It’s as-needed – Because the adjustments are so gentle and precise, they have a tendency to hold longer, at least once the soft tissue supporting the neck repairs itself. As a result, you may find that you don’t need an adjustment every time you come in for a checkup. The longer your adjustments hold, the further you can spread out your appointments, making this a cost-effective way to find headache relief.
If you are suffering from a chronic headache or migraine issue, give an upper cervical chiropractor near you a call. This safe and gentle form of chiropractic care is helping hundreds to experience less frequent and severe headaches. Some long-time sufferers are even headache-free.