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7 Tips for Relieving Headaches Caused by Neck Pain

Headaches that result from neck pain are not pleasant at all and make it difficult for you to participate in daily activities as usual. Concentrating or moving your head becomes tough as the pain across the temples and forehead combined with stiffness in the neck complicates the problem. It is best to seek medical attention to learn about the possible causes of headaches and how they can be treated. Dr. Eric Freeman is an experienced and board-certified physician at Redefine Healthcare, New Jersey’s premier pain management practice. He has been treating patients suffering from neck pain, headache, and spine problems for years. He comes up with the latest therapies and techniques to ease your discomfort successfully.    

Headaches are the most common complaint among youngsters as well as adults. A dull ache or feeling of tightness that creeps up the neck and across the forehead is the most annoying thing that can cause a lot of discomfort and affect your routine life.

Multiple factors can trigger a headache, depending on its type. In some cases, a headache may also result from neck pain.

Top Tips for Relieving Headaches Caused by Neck Pain

What Does Neck Pain Cause Headaches?

Many people experience neck pain with a headache. As the neck and head are closely related, any pain or unusual movement in the neck can lead to pain in the head too. The connection between the two depends on the cause of the neck pain and the type of headache you experience. A variety of conditions, such as stress, illness, and infection, can cause neck pain.

Understanding how these issues are connected makes it easy to see how headaches caused by neck pain can be relieved and prevented.

What Causes Neck Pain?

The neck is a collection of structures that joins the head to the shoulders and chest. It is made up of several bones, muscles, blood vessels, lymphatics, and other connective tissues that support the weight of the head and allow nerves to travel from the spine to the brain.

If any part of the neck sustains injury or strain, it can result in pain and discomfort. The bony part of the neck is also referred to as the cervical spine.

Some common causes of neck pain are:

  • Leaning forward or craning your neck for long periods while driving a car if the seat is too far back or too low results in stress on the neck.
  • Eye strain from prolonged driving, writing, reading, or looking at a computer can directly contribute to discomfort in the neck.
  • Looking at the phone with your head down and shoulders stooped all the time puts more pressure and weight on the neck curve, which can lead to muscle strain.
  • Sitting in front of the computer or a desk all day long can lead to neck and upper back pain.
  • If the computer monitor is too low or too high, you may end up straining your neck to see clearly, which results in putting more pressure on the muscles and tendons.
  • If you slouch or slump when sitting or standing, the extra pressure on the neck can cause pain.
  • Sleeping on the stomach can put a lot of strain on the spine when you turn the neck to one side while sleeping and arch your back.
  • Any injury or trauma to the neck can cause lingering stiffness and pain, particularly when the neck is jerked forward and backward suddenly.

Neck pain is rarely a symptom of a more serious problem unless you have been in a car accident or fallen from a height. Neck pain accompanied by numbness, pain that shoots down into a shoulder or down an arm, or inability to move your head indicates a serious condition and must be checked by a doctor.

How Headaches and Neck Pain Are Related?

Headaches and neck pain are closely related. Persistent neck tension or pain can lead to different types of headaches that affect your routine life and ability to function normally.  In some cases, pain in the neck causes headaches while in some cases, muscles located at the base of the skull and the top of the neck lead to pain in the head.

Sometimes, neck pain can also be a symptom of certain types of headaches.

Types of Headaches Caused by Neck Pain

Treating headaches caused by neck pain becomes easy if you know the types of issues or disorders neck discomfort can lead to. A headache resulting from neck pain may be one of the following:

Cervicogenic Headache

It is a classic example of referred pain. The pain occurs in the neck but it is felt in the head. Many people develop cervicogenic headaches after an injury that causes whiplash or as a result of a pinched nerve in the neck. Arthritis, neck sprains, or a neck fracture can also lead to cervicogenic headaches. At times, your sleep position and your posture at work might also trigger this type of headache.

Symptoms of cervicogenic headaches differ from other types of headaches.

They include:

  • Pain on one side of the head
  • Pain that begins at the bottom of the skulls and travels up to one side of the head
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Discomfort when you turn your neck from one side or the other
  • Pain around one eye
  • Pain when you cough or sneeze

If cervicogenic headaches are not treated timely, they can occur frequently and cause severe pain. It is essential to seek medical attention to determine the causes of pain and find the best way to treat it.

Occipital Neuralgia

This type of headache is triggered by a pinched nerve in the neck. An injury to the neck, tightness in the muscles, or an arthritis-like condition can cause a pinched nerve.

Symptoms of the occipital nerve include:

  • Stabbing and sharp pain shooting through the occipital nerve
  • Pain similar to an electric shock
  • Pain at the back of the skull
  • Pain with neck movement
  • Pain behind one of the eyes
  • Sensitivity in the scalp that often makes it difficult to put the head down on a pillow

Occipital neuralgia is relatively rare, but it is often confused with migraine as both share some symptoms. If you experience shooting pain across your scalp or skill, consult a doctor to have it accurately diagnosed and treated.

Types of Headaches That Lead to Neck Pain

Just as pain in the neck causes headaches, there are times when headaches can also cause pain in the neck. Some types of headaches that are also associated with neck pain include:

Tension Headaches

Tension headache is the most common problem that can cause pain in the neck. While the exact causes of tension headaches are not known, they seem to be related to stress. People with high-stress levels are known to suffer from tension headaches more.

Symptoms of tension headaches include:

  • Feeling as if a ball is squeezing around the forehead, putting pressure on the head
  • Pain all over the head and not just to one side
  • Pain in the back of the neck and shoulders

The suboccipital muscles, found in the neck become inflamed and tender when someone has a tension headache, resulting in neck pain. Poor posture and repetitive movements can also lead to tension headaches. There are two types of tension headaches. Episodic headaches often develop as a result of stress, but they ease up when the stressful situation is over. Chronic headaches occur frequently and sometimes daily if they are not addressed timely.


Migraines are a common type of headache that affects a large population all over the world. It is a type of neurological headache that causes throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head and in some cases neck too, which often becomes debilitating, affecting daily routines.

Symptoms of migraine include:

  • Moderate to severe pain in the head and neck
  • Nausea
  • Body ache
  • Sensitivity to light or sound

Healthcare professionals are not sure if neck pain triggers migraines or if it is a symptom of migraine, as it begins at the same time as the headache.

Top Tips for Relieving Headaches Caused by Neck Pain

Once you have identified the cause of your headaches and neck pain, it is time to focus on easing the pain and finding relief from discomfort. Certain at-home remedies and self-care treatments can help you relieve headaches caused by neck pain.

Some top tips for getting rid of headaches include:

Improve Your Workplace Ergonomics

You can ease and prevent your headache from being caused by neck pain by adjusting the way you sit at your desk and work. A poor posture or unsuitable position can put strain and pressure on the neck and head, resulting in pain. It is essential to adjust the height of your monitor so that you look at it directly instead of looking up and down.

Make sure to choose a chair that is the appropriate height for you. Your feet should rest flat on the floor when you sit, and the knees should be a few inches from the edge of the chair. If you have to look down at the paper while sitting, consider getting a stand to hold the documents at eye level so that you don’t have to bend your neck.

Focus on Your Posture

Your posture affects the way your neck moves and feels. If you slouch too much, you end up putting a lot of extra weight on the head and neck, and it will eventually lead to pain and discomfort.

The first step towards improving your neck pain-related headache is focusing on your posture and how you can improve it. When you stand, notice the angle of your back, neck, and shoulders. Try to stand up as tall and straight as possible. It means pulling the stomach in and pushing your shoulders back slightly, straightening the spine. Level your head in a way as if you are balancing a book on it.

Maintaining a good posture is very important when you are sitting, whether it is at a desk, at a table, or watching TV. When you sit, keep something behind your back for support to prevent slumping forward.

Improve Your Quality of Sleep

Sleeping better means changing the position you lay in and making sure you get a good night’s rest. It is important to have proper support for your neck and head as you sleep. You may have to lay on your back or side and use a pillow that provides support to keep your head level. If your head dips or stays low while you are sleeping, chances are that you will wake up with pain in the neck or head.

Lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can aggravate existing headaches or lead to chronic headaches in the long run. One way to ensure you get enough sleep is to create a schedule for yourself. Make a point to go to bed and get up at the same time each day and try to do something relaxing before turning it in so that your body is ready for sleep. On the flip side, research also suggests that sleeping too much can cause tension headaches or worsen them.

Exercise More

Physical activity can help reduce neck pain and the headaches that it causes. Some exercises are better for relieving headaches as they focus on calming the body and increasing overall wellness. Choose low-impact activities such as yoga or gentle stretching as they are good for relieving minor to moderate aches and pains. A light cardio routine such as taking a walk can also ease tension in the neck or head that turns painful.

Heading out in fresh air also gives you a chance to enjoy nature and sunlight, reduces your stress levels, and prevents such headaches. Consult a physical therapist if you are not sure about which type of exercise would work best for you.

Go For a Massage

Massage can help to relax the neck muscles that may be causing pain in the head. A good massage can ease muscle strain and tension, depending on the type of massage you choose.

Apply firm but gentle pressure on your temples or forehead with your fingertips. Massaging the back of your neck may also relieve the discomfort and help you feel better, especially when the tensed muscles are making it difficult to function normally.

You can book a massage session with a licensed and experienced therapist for professional assistance. The massage therapist recommends a customized treatment plan that includes neck stimulating exercises, manual therapy, and other techniques that strengthen the muscles supporting the neck and back to prevent pain. The therapist targets specific points around the neck and head and appropriately stimulates scalp muscles and tender nodules in the neck to relieve tension.

Manage Your Stress

Headaches are often caused by triggers such as increased levels of anxiety and stress.  If your chronic headaches are being caused by neck pain associated with stress, finding ways to keep your stress levels down can improve your pain over time. You can manage your stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, massage, exercises, certain yoga poses, and meditation. Such activities also promote the release of the body’s feel-good hormones, endorphins that can help you relax.

Make some time to do things you enjoy, such as taking up a hobby to keep stress away. Set boundaries in your personal and professional life and learn to say no to unnecessary pressure, delegate tasks you cannot handle, or reschedule meetings and you will be able to manage stress effectively. Focusing on what you need to do and how or what you have accomplished is also an effective way to control things and prevent stress.

Try Heat and Cold Therapies

Depending on the type of headache you are suffering from, heat or cold therapy may ease your pain. Tension headaches are caused by constriction of blood vessels. This condition can be relieved by placing a warm cloth or heating pad on the back of the neck. Taking a hot shower may also ease the pain while offering a relaxed feeling. Heat therapy improves circulation, promotes blood flow to the affected area, and soothes discomfort.

Ice therapy is also effective in alleviating neck and head pain. Cold decreases blood flow and reduces muscle spasms and inflammation, easing the pain. People suffering from migraines report that ice packs bring more relief than hot packs. Cooling sheet gels and cooling eye masks can also serve the same purpose.

You can also alternate between cold and heat therapy to see which offers better relief. Limit application to 15 minutes with at least two hours of rest in between. Always wrap the heat or ice pack in a towel or layer of clothing to prevent skin damage.

When to See a Doctor for Your Pain?

If your neck pain is resulting from an injury such as a motor vehicle accident, diving accident, or a fall, it is best to seek medical attention immediately.

Call your doctor in case of the following:

  • Your neck pain is severe
  • Your neck pain does not go away despite trying home remedies and self-care treatments
  • The pain is radiating down the arms or legs
  • The pain is causing headache, numbness, weakness, or tingling

Visit Redefine Healthcare to figure out the best ways for relieving headaches caused by neck pain. Dr. Eric Freeman is a pain management and rehabilitation specialist and helps you understand the connection between pain in the neck and headaches. He focuses on your symptoms and their causes to address the source of pain. He also comes up with advanced non-invasive treatment options to ease neck pain and other head, back, and spine conditions associated with it. You can look forward to comprehensive, highest-quality healthcare with top-rated specialists who make sure you are back to your routine within no time.  

Page Updated on Dec 12, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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