Can Neck Pain Cause Headaches?

Headaches are a common occurrence. Every person has suffered from a headache at least for once in his or her lifetime. At times, the headaches are not so serious and are mild and at times they are extreme and unbearable. While there are a lot of reasons behind the occurrence of headaches, neck pain is also a reason that many people do not know.

When the cause of headaches is neck pain, it is referred to as cervicogenic headache. Most people misdiagnose it to be migraine or cluster headache or some other similar types of headaches. However, many a times the origin of the pain that is “felt” in the head is not actually the brain, but the neck.

Can Neck Pain Cause Headaches?

Can Neck Pain Cause Headache?

Yes, neck pain is often the cause of headache. When the C1, C2 and C3 cervical spinal nerves share a pain, there might be a misunderstanding between the cervical nerves and the trigeminal nerves. The trigeminal nerves sends the message of pain to the brain from the neck and face region. As the pain is shared by both these nerves, the main sensory nerve (trigeminal nerve) starts to “feel” that the pain has occurred in the brain or the head and not in the neck.

Here, it must be mentioned that not just the cervical spine or the C1, C2 and C3 spinal nerves, but also the rest of the neurovascular and musculoskeletal structure of the neck can cause headache. Since, the upper part of the neck consists of the C1, C2 and C3 spinal vertebrae; it is majorly these three cervical nerves that cause the dysfunction of the trigeminal nerves in transmitting the pain signals to the brain.

Most Common Neck Joints Involved in Causing Headache

There are many causes behind the occurrence of headache in which neck pain is involved. The most common ones are –

Dysfunction of the Upper Three Neck Joints:

The joints that are involved in this are –

  • 0-C1: Atlanto-occipital joint
  • C1/C2: Atlanto-axial joint
  • C2/C3: Cervical spine joints.

If any of these joints are stiff, locked in a position that is abnormal or even if any of these joints move too much abruptly, you will feel a pain in your upper neck region. The pain will start to signal your brain and you will feel a headache that is solely caused by the neck pain.

Neck Muscles as a Reason for Headaches:

If the muscles in your neck and shoulders work too much, then also there can be pain that will lead to the occurrence of headache.

Irritated Nerves Causing Neck Pain and Headaches:

If, due to an extra bone growth or arthritis or even due to swelling or bulging of the discs in the spine, the nerves are irritated, it can cause pain in the neck that will lead to the occurrence of headache.


Whatever the cause of the headache may be, it is very important that you see a doctor at once and diagnose the exact cause of the condition before it is too late. Delay in the treatment will only worsen the condition and make the treatment expensive.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 7, 2018

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