What can cause neck pain and headaches?

Akash Bajaj, MD

In some cases, neck pain is caused by structural problems in the neck, such as with the muscles and joints of the vertebrae. Examples include arthritis, problems with the discs between the vertebrae and whiplash injuries. As expected, neck conditions commonly cause neck pain that may spread to the back and shoulders. However, a headache may accompany this neck pain. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons warns that a person with a neck condition who develops headaches should consult his/her doctor. This is especially true if the headache is accompanied by sensation changes, such as tingling in the hands or any numbness. Sometimes, medical conditions can cause neck and headache pain as a side effect. These include conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, such as fibromyalgia. 

Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy
Regardless of whether chronic pain has slowly crept into your life or it stems from a traumatic event such as a car accident, neck pain and headaches have their roots in two problems: poor shoulder function and poor neck function. Fixing problems in these two areas is fundamental to regaining control of your headaches and neck pain.

I typically see problems such as disk bulges, degenerative disk disease, disk herniations, and arthritis in the neck -- you name it. I call these structural diagnoses because they describe a physical problem that can be seen on a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or other scan. Because these physical problems can be seen with a scan, the conclusion is that the structural damage is the cause of your pain. I liken this to seeing an X-ray of a broken left thumb and appropriately casting it to heal without realizing that the right hand is continually hitting it with a hammer. Until we can make the right hand stop, the left thumb will continue to be reinjured, if it ever really heals at all. Yes, the broken bone is painful, but the right hand continues to deliver more pain and injury, preventing true healing from occurring. I believe something similar is happening that causes these structural changes in the body. I interpret the presence of these structural diagnoses as evidence of functional problems (those in which muscles or joints do not move optimally, creating stress to the tissues).
Fixing You: Neck Pain & Headaches: Self-Treatment for healing Neck pain and headaches due to Bulging Disks, Degenerative Disks, and other diagnoses.

More About this Book

Fixing You: Neck Pain & Headaches: Self-Treatment for healing Neck pain and headaches due to Bulging Disks, Degenerative Disks, and other diagnoses.

There are two major muscles connecting the shoulder blade to the head and neck. Because the shoulder system isn't working well, continual stress is placed on the head and neck creating...

Continue Learning about Neck Pain

Neck Pain

Neck Pain

Neck pain can be caused by structural problems or trauma, like a car accident, poor posture, or even stress. A healthcare professional can help you discover the cause of your neck pain, and then help determine the best treatment. ...

That can include heat and cold therapy, massage, stretching or medication.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.