My Migraines: A Pain in the Neck
Last updated: May 2023
For the longest time, I wasn't sure if my headaches - despite their severity and how the symptoms often aligned with those associated with migraines (such as light and noise sensitivity, nausea, etc.) - actually qualified as a "true migraine." It is because the majority of my headaches, even as they reached migraine-caliber levels of pain, usually seemed to originate as pain in my jaws, shoulders, and especially, my neck.
These kinds of headaches, known as "cervicogenic headaches," are often considered separate from "true migraines" even as they frequently have the same exact symptoms and are just as debilitating. However, it seems that many headache types have clear links to migraines, though it appears to be up for debate whether the neck pain is a trigger of migraine or a symptom.
Neck pain: Trigger or symptom?
One study from 2018 published in the Journal of Headache and Pain concluded neck pain was a symptom of migraine rather than a trigger after studying 102 participants via an EMG.1 However, a literature review published in 2019 noted shortcomings in the methodology and other studies indicating neck pain is a symptom rather than a trigger and stated more studies would be needed to confirm the hypothesis.2
Neck problems trigger my attacks
Personally, it seems like neck issues are more a trigger than a symptom in most cases of migraine or headache I experience (though they occasionally seem to go the other way). I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a connective tissue disease characterized by a lack of collagen and unstable joints. This lack of stability leads to issues with my cervical spine, and in turn (at least I think) - causes headache. Related to my EDS, I was recently diagnosed with cervical instability. And as I have developed vestibular migraine, I have in turn noted that my neck issues might be a primary culprit in my dizzy spells.
Neck pain is related to migraine
Whether neck pain is a trigger or a symptom, it can't be denied. It often accompanies migraine one way or the other for many, if not most, migraine sufferers. According to the 2018 Migraine in America study, 69% of migraine patients who took the survey reported having neck pain when they have migraines.3 So, at least for me, trying to calm down my neck pain, spasms, and ultimately stability, my cervical spine will hopefully be key in controlling or better managing my migraines and the vestibular (dizzy) symptoms that tend to accompany or follow them.
Do you have neck pain with migraine? Do you think it's a trigger or symptom? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.
Have others downplayed your migraine pain?