Migraine symptom: a stiff neck

Have you ever had a migraine symptom other people notice before you do?

My partner can tell when I have a migraine just by looking into my eyes—apparently I often get a glassy look and appear to be unfocused.

Others who are close to me (including my aforementioned partner) sometimes ask me, “Are you feeling okay?” or “Do you have a migraine?” before I have even realized for myself that I am not well. How is it they tell?

It turns out I usually give myself away in a few different ways:

  1. my posture
  2. my not being able to verbalize my thoughts quickly
  3. the way my eyes look unfocused
  4. the way I am using my hand to rub my temple
  5. the way I am using my hand to rub my neck
  6. the way I am slowly rocking my head back and forth trying to stretch my neck

Like a lot of migraine-related problems in my life, the stiff neck has gotten much more pronounced over time. My hand drifts absentmindedly to my neck (usually just one side of it is stiff) and tries to rub out the tension. I move my head around in all directions, slowly, trying to work out the tightness. And usually I don’t notice these subconscious movements until someone else points them out to me.

For me, the stiffness in my neck is usually on the same side where the migraine headache pain will soon emerge (like many people, my migraine headaches are unilateral, or one-sided, the majority of the time). As the head pain arrives, the stiffness in my neck gets more severe.

Once the migraine sets in, it’s really hard to get in a somewhat comfortable position. In addition to the achiness I get with migraine and the actual headache pain, my neck can’t seem to find a good spot on the couch or the pillow. Even during non-severe episodes, the stiffness of my neck can be distracting. Sometimes I ask Jim if he will rub my neck for just a couple of minutes. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I seem to believe that if I can just rub my neck a little bit better or position my head better, the stiffness will melt away.

Some friends I’ve talked to about this get the stiff neck only during the prodrome phase of migraine; others get it as the postdrome phase begins. (The majority of people I’ve informally quizzed about this have the most stiffness in their necks during the headache phase—that is, if they have neck stiffness at all.)

Do you have a stiff neck during any part of your migraine episode? Is there any type of massage, medication, or treatment you’ve found that makes you feel more at ease?

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