Everyone has experienced that dull ache in the neck that eventually becomes a headache. There are many causes, and most are not a result of a serious condition; an aspirin or other pain reliever usually does the trick. If you experience these headaches frequently, however, you may want to consult Dr. Charla Fischer, a New York spine surgeon.
Two types of headaches
Headaches are classified as either primary or secondary headaches. Primary headaches are not caused by an underlying disease or anatomical problem. Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying disease or condition, such as head injury, circulatory disorders, infections, or structural problems.
Headaches caused by neck pain
Headaches that start in the neck due to an underlying condition are referred to as cervicogenic headaches. The causes may be due to an injury to ligaments, neck muscles, a herniated cervical disk, or cervical arthritis, called spondylosis.
Cervicogenic headaches start as a dull ache in the neck that gets progressively worse, radiating up to the head. Pain may be intermittent or may spread to one side of the head and become continuous non-throbbing pain at the back and base of the skull. Neck movement may intensify the headache pain. Sometimes the pain radiates down the neck between the shoulder blades.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of cervicogenic headaches may include a stiff neck, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, light or sound sensitivity, or pain in the arms. Certain movements may cause shooting pains along the nerve extending into the head, neck, and upper back. It may also cause tingling in the arms or legs.
Risk factors include fatigue, sleep problems, neck injuries, poor posture, muscular stress, a pinched nerve, or cervical disk problems.
Herniated disk, stenosis, or degenerative disk disease?
A headache caused by a “pinched” or inflamed nerve will often start with a stiff neck with pain that radiates to the shoulders or lower back and head. In general, there are three common causes of a pinched nerve in the neck associated with headaches: a herniated disk, cervical spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal), or degenerative disk disease.
A herniated or ruptured cervical disk results from a crack or tear in the jelly-like disk between vertebrae that protrudes out and pushes on a nerve or causes inflammation of a nerve.
Cervical spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. It is sometimes caused by an inherited, naturally narrow spinal canal; more often, it results from degenerative changes in the spine, such as osteoarthritis. This can occur with repetitive injuries from sports, work accidents, or poor posture, which can cause bone spurs or bony projections to grow narrowing the spinal canal.
Degenerative disk disease results from wear and tear on the spongy disks separating the vertebrae, usually associated with aging. As with many tissues in the body, the disks can become compressed and less elastic, allowing the bones to rub together, causing pain.
People with cervicogenic headaches should be examined by Dr. Charla Fischer to determine the underlying cause. Nerve blocks are used both for diagnostic purposes and for treatment. A nerve block that eliminates the headache confirms a diagnosis of cervicogenic headache, relieves pain, and allows you and Dr. Charla Fischer to consider what long-term treatment may be best for you.