Neck pain is a common migraine symptom. In fact, some studies suggest that more people experience migraines with neck pain than they do with nausea. Up to 87% of migraineurs say they have neck pain with their migraines, and 60% of migraineurs say that the neck pain is a precursor to the headache. Unfortunately, neck pain as a migraine symptom is rarely discussed in depth. It’s a serious symptom that shouldn’t be ignored.
Disc Problems or Migraines?
Many patients with neck-pain migraines think they have neck problems instead of migraine attacks. This makes sense. Often, migraineurs say their migraines seem to radiate from the neck, making them think the pain originated from their spine. Additionally, the neck pain can be intense and seem to stem from the bones or discs, not just the muscles.
If you suffer from neck pain, you might have disc problems. Be sure to have your doctor rule spinal problems out. However, many patients experience relief when they instead, accurately diagnose and treat their pain as a migraine attack. Remember, the body is connected; many migraineurs suffer from multiple health problems that impact each other. It’s possible you might have both disc problems and migraine attacks.
Why do migraines come with neck pain?
The neck is a delicate and important part of your spine. The bottom portion of your brainstem exits through the first and second vertebrae in your spine. You can feel these two vertebrae if you put your hands where your head connects to your neck. Thus, this region protects your brain stem and helps facilitate communication between your brain and the rest of your body. When these bones go out of alignment, the blood flow, nerve flow and oxygen between your head and the rest of your body are harmed.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for these bones to misalign. They carry the weight of your head (up to 14lbs!). Neck strain (which has been made worse by constantly looking down at our phones and other devices) easily aggravates your vertebrae. Even a slight misalignment from their intended location can hamper blood, nerve, and oxygen flow. It’s easy to see how this would result in a migraine.
Blood flow isn’t the only thing that’s restricted from misalignment. Studies show pressure on the brain stem can cause migraines. Additionally, improper alignment can cause brain and spinal fluids to not drain properly creating a build-up of pressure in the head.
Treating Migraines and Neck Pain
At a basic level, you can change your lifestyle. Numerous things can cause pain in your joints – especially around the neck and shoulders – but poor posture always will. Make sure that your phone, computer, books, and so on are at eye level. Hold them up if you must. Focus on walking and sitting upright, and don’t slouch your shoulders. I’ve written about other ways to avoid getting a “text neck” here.
Additionally, emotional stress manifests physically. Stress causes migraines, and stress also causes neck and back pain. Don’t let your stress ruin your life. I know it is easier said than done (health problems are inherently stressful), but you need to actively look for ways to improve your mental wellbeing.
If your pain doesn’t get better after improving your lifestyle and your stress, consider seeing a chiropractor. Chiropractors work to realign your spine, improving blood flow and allowing other fluids to flow correctly. Your chiropractor will use a variety of techniques to do this. They might want to take x-ray images to analyze your spine. From there, they will move the spine into place through manual manipulation, stretches, and gentle pressure. Your chiropractor might also give you exercises to improve your alignment at home.
Neck pain with migraine is common. If you frequently suffer from both problems, look at your lifestyle. Are you watching your posture, stretching, and managing your stress? If not, begin doing so now. These changes can improve your wellbeing.
Upper Cervical Awareness – Neck Pain and Migraines
Migraine.com – Neck Pain Symptoms
Migraine Relief Center – The Neck and Migraine Connection