If you frequently deal with headaches that stem from neck issues, you know just how painful and frustrating they can be. Not only is there tension, soreness or stiffness in the neck itself, but it radiates upward to cause debilitating head pain too. The good news is several treatment options are available to both alleviate the neck pain itself and soothe the resulting headaches. With a strategic, multi-modal approach, you can hopefully find lasting relief.
Address the Root Cause: Neck Pain Treatment Basics
Poor neck posture, repetitive strain, pinched nerves, injuries and even arthritis can cause the upper spine area to hurt. No matter what initially triggers it though, the soreness puts pressure on nerves that travel from the neck up to the head. This causes inflammation and tension, eventually building up to cause those dreaded tension headaches. That’s why the first aspect of treatment has to address the underlying neck pain itself.
Getting to the root cause can involve multiple angles, usually starting with more conservative at-home measures:
- OTC pain medication – Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen can ease general soreness in muscles and tissues. Acetaminophen is another option for dulling pain sensitivity. Don’t overdo it with pills long-term though if possible.
- Heat/ice therapy – Alternate using heating pads or ice packs on the tender areas for 10-15 minutes at a time to promote healing blood flow and calm nerves.
- Gentle stretches/exercises – Simple motions that flex and extend the neck gently can help relieve impinged nerves and loosen tight spots. Yoga poses like child’s pose are great examples.
- Massage – Whether professional or self-massage, working the stiff, spasming muscles can encourage them to relax. Use gentle pressure and avoid directly massaging severely inflamed areas.
Then if the discomfort persists despite home care, a doctor or physical therapist can provide advanced pain relief options. Prescription muscle relaxers, spine adjustment techniques, ultrasound therapy and more can get to hard-to-reach muscles. Cortisone injections may even calm inflammation around impinged nerves.
Target the Head Pain
Once neck treatment is underway, direct headache care can overlap to manage pain signals to the head in the short term. These remedies won’t cure the problem on their own, but they can temporarily dull the headache while you work on the underlying neck tension:
- OTC medications – In addition to general pain pills, migraine medications like Excedrin Migraine can boost relief when neck pain triggers severe head pain.
- Cold compresses – Ice packs applied to the temples, forehead and base of the skull can have a numbing effect to dampen pain signals.
- Essential oils – Peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus oils tapped behind the ears, at the temples and on the back of the neck provide a pleasant cooling sensation to distract from headache pain.
- Acupuncture – Fine needles placed in trigger points along the neck, shoulders and head induces natural pain-blocking endorphins around irritation points.
- Massage – Gentle kneading along the upper neck, shoulders, scalp and temple areas relaxes tight musculature that could be aggravating nerves.
- Biofeedback – Stress fuels muscle tension which can in turn ratchet up headache pain levels. Apps and devices that enhance relaxation lower flare-ups.
Prevent Tension Build-up
Once an occipital headache starts, it can take days or even weeks for pain signals between the neck and head to completely stop even after initial irritation heals. That’s why building long-term relief relies heavily on prevention tactics to maintain relaxed muscles and proper neck alignment. An ounce of prevention truly outweighs pounds of cure in tension headache’s case.
Dedicate 15-20 minutes per day to self-care activities like the following to stave off recurring pain:
- Posture exercises – Sit and stand taller, pull shoulders back, look straight ahead instead of down to keep the spine properly aligned and avoid muscle strain.
- Yoga/stretching – A consistent flexibility practice keeps muscles supple and less prone to painful spasms.
- Stress relief – Anxiety fuels muscle tension that can exacerbate nerve issues. Try relaxing activities like meditation, nature sounds or calcium magnesium supplement drinks.
- Ergonomic optimization – From supportive pillows in bed to workstation adjustments, customize your spaces and habits to prevent neck strain.
By adjusting your daily lifestyle factors, you remove key triggers that could allow occasional neck stiffness to cascade into chronic discomfort or debilitating cervicogenic headaches. Arm yourself with the right combination of medical pain relief, self-care techniques and preventative changes to finally disrupt the pain cycle. In most cases, this joint treatment approach helps turn the tide in managing headaches rooted in neck problems.