Neck pain and migraines can be related in origin and often exist together. Neck pain can strike for many possible reasons, including spinal pathology, soft tissue problem, systemic causation or mindbody source. Meanwhile, migraines remain an enigmatic occurrence in terms of definitive causation in the traditional medical community, although scientists understand their method of action. We have discovered many links to definitive relationships between migraine and chronic pain in our own proprietary research over the past 15 years.
When migraines exist along with known neck pain syndromes, there might be a relationship between the 2 conditions. In other cases, causation might be unrelated from completely separate sources. It takes a true expert in cervical pain syndromes and headaches to confirm the possible link between these 2 debilitating pain processes.
This discussion focuses attention on the relationship between neck pain and migraine headaches. We will detail the common causes of these symptoms, as well as the best way to treat them effectively and safely.
Symptoms of Neck Pain and Migraines
It is important to first highlight the symptoms of neck pain and migraine headaches in order to help prevent patients from pursuing recommended care if their conditions do not fit the parameters of the diagnosis. We already know that neck pain symptoms can be very diverse, ranging from minor soreness and tightness to blindingly acute pain. There can be neurological expressions, as well, such as burning, paresthesia and weakness. Neck pain can be loosely defined as discomfort and related symptomology in the greater cervical spinal region, including the side of the neck reaching around towards the frontal throat anatomy.
However, migraine headaches are less understood by many patients, which we know to be a fact. Many of you write to us complaining of migraines, when your actual symptoms are obviously tension-style headaches, rather than true migraine expressions. Migraine headaches are most often preceded by scintillating lights in the periphery of the vision, unilaterally or occasionally bilaterally. They tend to develop on one side of the head, although can rarely encompass both sides. Migraines often produce blurry vision, sound distortion and overall sensitivity to sensation, such as light, noise and even touch. Additionally, they typically affect the body in other ways, such as creating nausea, inciting vomiting, causing general gastrointestinal distress and other seemingly unrelated symptoms. To be clear, migraines are not simply severe headaches. They have specific components which differentiate them from general headaches and tension headaches, which are far more common and can be just as severe, but without the classic manifestations of migraine.
Causes of Migraines
Neck pain causes are very diverse and form the basis of much of this website. There can be spinally-motivated pain, muscular neck pain, systemic and disease-related pain and oxygen deprivation pain enacted by the mindbody process. However, migraines are well known to be a direct reaction to regional ischemia inside the brain. In cases of definitive migraine headache, doctors know for sure that a specific blood vessel is affected in the brain, creating the symptoms. However, why this reduction in blood flow occurs remains a mystery to much of medical science, expect for scientists who focus on mindbody medicine. These doctors already know the definitive source of migraines, since it mirrors so many other classic chronic and recurrent pain syndromes: primary gain syndromes created by the non-conscious aspects of the mind
Ischemia can and does produce migraine headaches. However, it can also source a wide range of neck pain complaints, which are often mistakenly diagnosed as coming from an incidental structural spinal source, such as a herniated disc, spinal arthritis or mechanical dysfunction. Since structural change is universally experienced in the neck to a large degree as we get older, there are often several structural scapegoats to take the blame for neck pain, but the presence of migraines helps to narrow down the possibility of both sets of symptoms in the neck and head being linked to a common ischemic source.
It should be mentioned that other types of headaches can be caused by structural pathologies and muscular issues in the neck as well, but these circumstances do not apply to true migraines. Tension headaches have been definitely linked to nerve compression and spinal cord compression in the upper neck, as well as muscular issues that might result from injury, degeneration or dysfunction in the greater cervical spinal anatomy.
Treatment for Neck Pain and Migraines
True migraines are almost always a mindbody disorder, having a psychogenic source that uses oxygen deprivation as its mechanism of action. Rarely, they can result from structural pathologies inside the brain, such a tumors or circulatory problems. Neck pain does not have to be linked to this same mindbody source, but often is, especially in patients with a history of other possible mindbody expressions, such as chronic pain, digestive issues, depression and others. We detail a very comprehensive list of psychogenic pain conditions on the original Cure-Back-Pain.Org website and recommend it for further study for those who are interested in defining their diagnosis and learning more about the link between mind and body.
For patients with ischemia-induced pain, knowledge therapy is the best path of treatment. Patients who pursue this path can usually expect to find lasting relief without risk or complication, unlike those who pursue dangerous medical practices like injections, drugs and surgery. However, just remember that alternate headache types might increase the chances of a structural link between the neck and the headache, although tension-style headaches can also be caused by regional oxygen deprivation. Alternate possibilities to investigate in these cases include severe cervical herniated discs, central spinal stenosis at a high cervical level and chronic muscular issues in the trapezius muscles and greater neck muscle anatomy. In these cases, treatment should follow the indications for the specific structural issue present.
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