Neck Headache


A neck headache is a type of headache that is caused by referred pain from the musculoskeletal system in your neck. Poor posture, cervical spondylosis, and nerve compression are some of the common causes of neck headaches. Physiotherapy, neck exercises, joint mobilisation, muscle tension release, and spinal manipulation are some of the treatment options available.

Causes of Neck Headache

Guitar and singer concept, Young asian woman is feeling headache and neck pain after singing
Photo Credit: indypendenz | Envato

Referred pain from the cervical spine and musculoskeletal system causes neck headache, or cervicogenic headache. Poor posture, particularly prolonged neck flexion, can cause muscle tension and joint dysfunction in the cervical spine, leading to neck headache. Whiplash injuries, cervical spondylosis, and disc disease can also contribute to nerve compression and neck headache.

1. Whiplash

Whiplash is a common cause of neck headache, often occurring after a car accident or other trauma. The sudden acceleration or deceleration forces the head and neck to move beyond their normal range of motion; this leads to damage to the soft tissues in the neck and head. Symptoms of whiplash may include neck pain, stiffness, dizziness, and headache.

2. Cervical Spondylosis and Disc Disease

Cervical spondylosis and disc disease are degenerative conditions that can cause nerve compression in the neck, leading to neck headache. Cervical spondylosis is the natural wear and tear of the vertebrae and discs in the neck, while disc disease is the degeneration of the discs between the vertebrae in the neck. Symptoms may include neck pain, stiffness, numbness, and tingling in the arms and hands.

3. Poor Posture

Poor posture, particularly prolonged neck flexion, can cause muscle tension and joint dysfunction in the cervical spine, leading to neck headache. This type of headache can occur from working on a computer, watching television, or using a smartphone or tablet for extended periods. Improving ergonomics and postural habits can help prevent neck headaches.

a Hunchbacked person with wrong bad posture, back bones pain and problems
Photo Credit: MikeShots | Envato

Overall, a variety of conditions and factors related to the cervical spine and musculoskeletal system can cause neck headache. Identifying the underlying cause is key to effective treatment and prevention strategies.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Neck Headache

Neck headache or cervicogenic headache is a type of headache that originates from the neck or cervical spine. It is a result of referred pain, which means that the pain is felt in the head, but its source is in the neck. The musculoskeletal system and posture contribute to developing neck headache. Other underlying conditions such as cervical spondylosis, disc disease, or nerve compression can also cause neck headache (also, check if you have a headache or migraine).

Symptoms of neck headache include a dull, aching pain that starts in the neck and radiates to the head. The pain can be on one or both sides of the head and can be described as a band-like sensation. Neck headache can also cause muscle tension and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Chronic pain can also occur if neck headache is not treated promptly.

Diagnosis of neck headache involves a thorough physical examination by a healthcare professional. Imaging studies such as MRI, CT scan, or X-ray may be required to rule out other underlying conditions. Doctors use pain patterns and responses to treatment to differentiate neck headaches from other types of headaches.

Diagnosis of neck headache involves a thorough physical examination by a healthcare professional.

Treating neck headaches requires finding and treating the underlying cause. Physiotherapy, including neck exercises and joint mobilisation, can help reduce muscle tension and alleviate neck headaches. Manual therapy, massage, and acupuncture can also provide relief. Nerve blocks, trigger point injections, and spinal manipulation can aid in relieving chronic pain.

Additionally, ergonomics and postural correction may prevent recurrences of neck headaches. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and analgesics may provide short-term relief. Physical therapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, biofeedback, stress management, and sleep positioning strategies are all effective neck headache treatment options.

Overall, neck headaches can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Multimodal therapy and patient education are effective prevention strategies for neck headaches. With the appropriate treatment and management, neck headaches can be successfully managed, and individuals can regain their quality of life.

Treatment Options for Neck Headache

Neck headaches can be debilitating and negatively impact the quality of life. Fortunately, there are several treatment options available that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with this condition

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a non-invasive treatment option that can help reduce neck pain and improve mobility. It involves various techniques such as neck exercises, joint mobilisation, muscle strengthening, and spinal manipulation. A physical therapist will assess your condition and create a customised treatment plan for your needs.

Manual Therapy

Physiotherapist doing manual treatment to a man
Photo Credit: RossHelen | Envato

Manual therapy is a hands-on approach involving mobilising and manipulating soft tissues and joints. It can help reduce muscle tension, increase circulation, and improve flexibility. Manual therapy techniques such as massage, acupuncture, and trigger points release, among others, can help you manage neck headaches.


Various medications can be prescribed to relieve pain and discomfort caused by neck headaches. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can help reduce inflammation and pain. Muscle relaxants and analgesics can also be prescribed to help you manage your pain.

Postural Correction and Ergonomics

Postural correction and ergonomics are effective ways to reduce neck headache incidences. Simple changes such as maintaining good posture, adjusting computer monitors, and using ergonomic chairs can help reduce muscle strain and tension. An ergonomics expert can help in identifying ergonomic mismatches in your work or home environment, providing a solution to reduce or eliminate neck headaches.

Stress Management

Stress can be a trigger for neck headaches. Effective stress management techniques such as biofeedback, relaxation exercises, and meditation can help reduce stress levels and reduce the frequency and intensity of neck headache incidences.

In conclusion, managing neck headaches involves a multimodal approach that addresses the condition’s underlying causes. Working with a team of healthcare professionals such as a physiotherapist, chiropractor, and ergonomics expert, can help you manage neck headaches and improve your quality of life.

Prevention and Conclusion

Neck headaches can severely impact your quality of life, but there are ways to prevent them. Adopting a few simple lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of developing cervicogenic headaches and other related conditions.

Prevention Strategies

One of the main causes of neck headaches is poor posture. Therefore, practising good ergonomics is essential, especially if you work at a desk or spend a lot of time staring at a screen. Ensure your chair is at the correct height, keep your screen at eye level and take regular breaks to stretch your neck and shoulders.

Woman with Good Posture Working on Laptop
Photo Credit: DragonImages | Envato

Try sleeping in a position that reduces the strain on your neck, such as lying on your back with a supportive pillow. Avoid sleeping on your stomach as this can cause your neck to twist unnaturally.

Regular exercise can also help prevent neck headaches by strengthening your neck muscles and improving your posture. Speak to a physiotherapist who can recommend specific exercises to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Headache or Migraine

How do you get rid of a neck headache?

Neck headaches, often called cervicogenic headaches, can be treated through various methods. This may include over-the-counter pain relievers, heat or cold therapy on the neck, physiotherapy, massage, stretching, strengthening exercises, and improving posture. Prescription medications or interventions like nerve blocks may also be used in more severe cases. Consulting with a healthcare provider for an appropriate treatment plan is important.

What kind of headache feels like neck pain?

Cervicogenic headache can feel like neck pain. This is a secondary headache, caused by a problem in the neck, such as an injury, a disorder, or a condition affecting the neck’s bones, muscles, or nerves. The pain is often on one side of the head and neck, and it may extend to the front of the head or behind the eyes.

Where do neck pain headaches occur?

Cervicogenic headaches typically cause pain that starts in the neck and radiates towards the front of the head or to the eyes. The pain often worsens with certain neck movements or postures. These headaches are often one-sided but can affect both sides of the head.

What causes neck pain at the base of the skull?

Several conditions can cause neck pain at the base of the skull, including tension headaches, cervicogenic headaches, occipital neuralgia, or arthritis. Poor posture or working in awkward positions for prolonged periods, such as looking down at a smartphone or computer, can also contribute to this type of pain. In rare cases, it can be a sign of a more serious condition like an infection or tumour, so it’s important to seek medical advice if the pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other worrisome symptoms.