Neck pain can be a significant feature of many headache types. Migraine and tension-type headaches are often accompanied by neck pain. Some of the more serious types of headaches such as subarachnoid hemorrhage and meningitis often involve severe pain in the head and neck area.
Although headaches can be associated with the above, more serious conditions, most headaches are quite benign. However, if your headaches show a changing pattern in terms of severity or frequency or if your headaches are associated with fever, confusion, or neurologic symptoms, you need to see your doctor quickly.
Headaches that have their actual origin in the neck are called cervicogenic headaches psychogenic headaches. This type of headache syndrome is extremely common and most often goes undiagnosed. Generally, the headache is unilateral but can occasionally affect both sides. Often, the patient can identify an activity or position of the head/neck that can provoke an attack. While most suffers describe the discomfort as a deep, aching pain, some feel a “ shooting” type of discomfort that radiates forward from the back of the head.
The hallmark features of migraine such as nausea and sensitivity to light are rarely present. However, these two types of headaches often coexist. It is quite important to identify this headache syndrome and especially to distinguish it from migraine or tension-type headache as the treatments can be quite different. If your headaches seem to fit this type of pattern, discuss it with your family doctor, chiropractor or neurologist. Good luck in your search.
David B Sudderth MD
Dr. Sudderth is a board-certified neurologist and has subspecialty recognition in headache medicine.