How Long Do Headaches From Neck Pain Last?

Headaches arising from neck pain, also known as cervicogenic headaches, are a common problem that can significantly impact one’s quality of life. But how long do these headaches typically last? Here’s an overview of what causes cervicogenic headaches and what to expect regarding their duration.

What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches originate from issues in the cervical spine (neck) region. Common causes include:

  • Injuries such as whiplash that strain the muscles and ligaments in the neck.
  • Degenerative disc disease resulting in a herniated or bulging disc that puts pressure on the cervical spine.
  • Arthritis in the upper spine leading to inflammation and joint dysfunction.
  • Poor posture that places extra stress on the neck over time.
  • Muscle spasms and tightness in neck muscles that trigger headache pain.

The sensitive nerves, vertebrae, discs, and muscles in the cervical area are all interconnected. Any problems in these structures can cause inflammation or compression of nerve roots that then radiate pain into the head. The occipital nerves at the base of the skull are especially prone to this.

Duration and Frequency

The duration and frequency of cervicogenic headaches can vary substantially depending on the underlying cause and severity. Acute injuries or flare-ups may result in severe headache pain lasting hours to days. Chronic degenerative issues tend to cause headaches that are milder but recur frequently.

In many cases, the headaches have a chronic but intermittent pattern. Patients may experience headaches a few times a week or even daily, with headache-free periods in between. Individual headache episodes typically last from 4 to 72 hours. But some people do experience nearly constant daily headaches arising from neck problems.

The pain also may start in the neck and shoulder area and then radiate up into the head. Many report pain spreading across the whole head from the area just behind the ear on the affected side.

Treatment and Relief

Treating the underlying source of the neck pain is key to stopping cervicogenic headaches. This may involve physical therapy, ergonomic corrections, pain medication, trigger point injections, chiropractic adjustment, and sometimes surgery for severe cases. With proper treatment, many find their headache frequency and intensity decreases substantially.

But headaches may come and go depending on the state of one’s neck issues. Periodic flare-ups are common even with treatment. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers can temporarily alleviate headache pain during episodes. It’s also important to avoid any activities that aggravate neck pain. With a combination of rest, medication, physical therapy, and adjustments to activities, most cervicogenic headaches can be managed successfully. But chronic neck problems may result in recurrent headaches over an extended period.