Can Migraines Make Your Neck Hurt?

Migraines are severe, throbbing headaches that can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine pain typically occurs on one side of the head, but some people experience pain that radiates to the neck as well. There are a few reasons why migraines can cause neck pain:

Muscle Tension

One of the most common causes of migraine-related neck pain is muscle tension. The neck contains many muscles, tendons, and ligaments that connect the head to the shoulders and back. When migraine pain causes you to tense the muscles in your head and shoulders, this can radiate down into the neck. The tension itself can trigger pain and spasms in the neck muscles. Even after the migraine subsides, the neck muscles may remain in spasm causing lingering soreness.

Nerve Pain

Migraines are thought to involve the activation of nerve fibers that transmit pain signals. For some people, this nerve pain can radiate from the head down into the neck. The upper neck contains cervical spine nerves that connect to the base of the head. Inflammation or irritation of these nerves during a migraine attack can refer pain signals into the neck. This is sometimes described as a “migraine neck ache.”

Trigger Points

Myofascial trigger points are tight knots or spasms that develop in muscles and surrounding connective tissue. These sensitive areas can radiate pain to other body regions, even at a distance from the trigger point itself. Migraines may activate trigger points in the neck and shoulder muscles that then refer pain locally. The specific pattern of referred pain depends on the location of the trigger point. Treating the trigger points through massage can help relieve migraine-related neck aches.

Inflammation

Some researchers believe that inflammation in the nerves and blood vessels of the head and neck may contribute to certain migraines. Inflammatory molecules can sensitize pain nerves, causing them to overreact to stimuli. Though not fully proven, this inflammation could theoretically spread into the upper neck and cause muscle and nerve pain. Reducing overall inflammation in the body through diet, stress relief, and other methods may help mitigate these effects.

Posture Changes

Poor posture during a migraine attack can also strain the neck muscles. Migraine pain causes some people to cradle their forehead and tilt their head forward. Over time, this head tilt can strain the muscles along the back of the neck. Trying to maintain normal posture as much as possible during and after a migraine may help reduce associated neck pain.

The bottom line is that the intense head pain of a migraine headache can radiate down into the neck through various mechanisms. Seeking treatment for the migraines themselves is the best way to prevent associated neck pain from developing. But when neck pain does occur with a migraine, applying heat, massaging trigger points, improving posture, and taking anti-inflammatory medication can also provide relief. If migraines are causing frequent or severe neck pain, be sure to discuss these symptoms with your doctor.