The Painful Pair: Why do you experience migraines and neck pain at the same time?

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The Painful Pair: Why do you experience migraines and neck pain at the same time?

Many great things in life come in pairs: macaroni and cheese, milk and cookies, Tom and Jerry, just to name a few. Then you’ve got a sprinkling of nasty pairs like Bonnie and Clyde, pickles and chocolate, migraines and neck pain. Yes, you read that right. You’re probably in the throes of that painful combo now as you read this article. 

Why do migraines and neck pain often come hand in hand? Let’s find out 

Migraines affect as many as 39 million people in the United States alone. Women unfortunately are affected three times more than men. Migraines are considered a genetic disease with a neurological nature. In layman’s terms, this means that migraines are not just “bad headaches”, but a disorder. 

What causes migraines?

There are plenty of migraine triggers. They include the following:

  • Stress – both at work and from home.
  • Weather changes – changes in weather or barometric pressure have been known to prompt migraines.
  • Sleep changes – whether you lack sleep are getting too much sleep, or have jet lag.
  • Drinks – when you have too much alcohol or caffeine.
  • Sensory stimuli – bright lights and glare are known to induce migraines. So can extremely loud sounds and strong, overpowering smells including paint thinner, perfume or secondhand smoke. 
  • Hormonal changes in women – when estrogen fluctuates (before or after menstrual periods), pregnancy and menopause trigger migraines in women. 
  • Certain types of food or diet – processed and salty foods are known to be migraine triggers, and so do dietary behaviours such as fasting or skipping meals.

Pre-migraine warning signs

If there has to be something good to be said about migraines, well, at least they seem to be courteous. They don’t just crash into your party unannounced. Very often, there are warning signs that a migraine is about to set foot. They can be grouped into two kinds. 


This is also known as “pre-headache”, and they can mark the beginning of a migraine attack. The duration of this phase varies. Some can last for hours, while some may extend over several days. These are signs you may need to look out for:

  • Constipation
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Food cravings
  • Increased thirst and toilet trips to urinate
  • Neck stiffness


For about 20 percent of migraine sufferers, aura is experienced prior to an actual migraine attack. Aura is the term for any sensory changes that might occur prior to a migraine attack. Also called “classic migraine”, this type is a recurring headache that immediately strikes after or at the same time as sensory disturbances. Aura disturbances can include sudden flashes of light, vision changes, seeing spots and bright dots, etc.

Symptoms of migraine

Not all migraine attacks are the same. Here are symptoms that appear along with the head pain:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Sound sensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Throbbing and pounding pain in the head
  • Pain on only one side of the head
  • Vomiting
  • Visual disturbances
  • Vertigo
  • Moodiness
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Exhaustion
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Neck pain

Migraines and neck pain: Is this painful pair inevitable?

Now let’s go back to our main topic: migraines and neck pain. Is this painful pair really inevitable?  A study published by The Journal of Headache and Pain reveals that neck pain is actually a symptom of a migraine, and not a trigger, as previously thought. It is believed that this has to do with the muscles and nerves in the neck. 

In that study, conducted in a headache outpatient clinic in Germany, researchers concluded that neck tension that occurs during or before a migraine headache should be regarded as a symptom of the migraine attack. 

How exactly is migraine connected to neck pain?

When migraine strikes, our brain actually has no way to feel pain. Therefore the “culprit” here are the nerves and muscles in the neck. The head pain that comes with migraines are coming from the nerves in the head, which is often caused by a neck problem. The spine’s bones or discs that are meant to cushion the bones can cause neck pain. The sensation when this happens is like having a migraine in your neck. Others report that it feels like suffering from migraine that is radiating from the neck to the head. 

Those who suffer from neck pains and migraines report the top three sensations felt during a migraine attack: Tightness (69 percent), neck pain prior to head pain (60 percent) and stiffness (17 percent).

What can you do with this pain-in-the-neck migraine?

Chiropractic therapy

It is found that a misalignment of either the C1 or C2 vertebra is quite common. Whilst this does not always cause pain, this can be a reason why a number of migraine or neck pain sufferers get a feeling of tightness in the neck. 

Due to this, a medical case series done in 2019 explored the option of integrating chiropractic care into the treatment of migraine headaches. Chiropractors are licensed to administer therapies not just for maintenance but health restoration as well. 

Temperature therapy

If you cannot afford chiropractic therapy (or simply don’t want to do it), you can try temperature therapy via a cold compress to your neck or head. Cold ice packs have been known to have a numbing effect, which dulls the sensation of pain. Moreover, cold temperature is known to reduce muscle spasms and inflammation, thereby minimising physical pain in the area. There are many types of ice packs suited to relieve migraine. Magic Gel alone has four different types of gel packs for migraines and headaches

Heat therapy can sometimes be effective as well. For some people, headaches are caused by the constriction of blood vessels, and this can be relieved by placing a heat pack on the nape of the neck. Taking a hot shower can also help. 

This is a safe, cost-effective and drug-free option to get relief from migraines and neck pain that we very much approve of.

Good posture

Sometimes, the answer lies in what our parents have always nagged us for: to sit and stand properly. When we spend several hours in a day slouched over desks or laptops with forward head posture, this puts extreme stress on our neck muscles and joints. This can eventually lead to neck pain and migraines. 

Being conscious of your posture can be the simplest, most helpful thing you can do to alleviate your neck pain migraines.

Sleep with the right pillow

Many headaches and body pains are caused by sleeping with the wrong type of pillow. Choose a pillow that suits your preference for a head to neck alignment.  It helps to try out different ones before you can find one that fully supports the natural curve of your neck.

You will be amazed by what the right kind of pillow will do to your sleep and waking hours.

Migraines affect millions worldwide, and while there is no direct cure yet for it, it can be manageable with the right information and preparation.

Are you suffering from migraines as well? What methods have you tried to cope with the pain? Send us a message so we can discuss and possibly help each other out!

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