When people think about the reasons for neck pain, car accidents, odd sleeping positions and sport-related collisions typically come to mind. When thinking about headaches, the list changes…intense smells, loud noises, sinus infections, stress… Yet, some people may not realize that a neck problem might be causing their head pains. Therefore, it’s not hard to imagine why you don’t hear much about it when talking about headaches. Since it’s not literally in the head, it doesn’t enter the conversation very often.
But let’s pause for a moment to clear up a regular source of confusion: the word “cervical” may be more well-known in gynecological contexts, but it is used for the spine, too. The cervical vertebrae is the portion of your spine the runs along the back of your neck, connecting your back to your head.
A cervical headache is triggered within these “neck bones” and may be triggered by a any of the above – from trauma to improper head positioning during sleep. Sometimes confused with migraines, a cervicogenic headache will have pain focused on one side of the head. In fact, another common symptom includes feeling shoulder pain on the same side of the body as that headache.
Also like migraines, it’s possible for this pain to cause nausea and vomiting. However, they are less likely to be as frequent and severe. Since the problem originates in the neck region, there will be a limited range of motion due to the tension. That same pain could actually be triggering the headache itself.
While doctors are aware of these headaches, there is still much being learned about them. Diagnosing a cervical headache is challenging at times because the symptoms can be indicators of other types of problems.
The combination of neck and head pain could end up being a common migraines/tension headache or something more serious, like meningitis. However, being able to rule out other possibilities can be helpful, and that’s why you should seek medical attention. Remember, physicians have a million things to think about when trying to arrive at a proper diagnosis and course of treatment for your pain. While we patients should never demand a certain diagnosis, it never hurts to ask, especially if you have suffered some neck trauma, even if that trauma did not seem to cause immediate pain.