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Neck Pain

Migraine can have a range of symptoms. These migraine symptoms vary from person to person. Some people living with migraine report neck pain before, during, or after migraine attacks.

Neck pain may include the muscles or nerves in the neck and can vary among people with migraine. It can also occur in the bones of the spine or the discs that cushion the areas between the spinal bones. It may also feel like the migraine is in the base of the neck.

How common is neck pain a symptom of migraine?

In the 2018 Migraine In America survey, we asked, “What symptoms do you typically experience with your migraine attacks?” Out of the 4,356 respondents, 69 percent reported experiencing neck pain as part of a migraine symptom.

Warning: A stiff neck can be a sign of a more serious or potentially life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical assistance if you experience a stiff neck, along with fever and headache.

Due to the high rate of neck pain in those living with migraine, it was long thought that neck pain might be a trigger for migraine. A 2018 study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain found that neck pain should actually be seen as a symptom of migraine, and not a trigger.1 The study looked at those living with migraine and a control group and found no significant difference between the 2 groups during periods of mental stress or physical activity, compared to rest periods.1

Why does neck pain occur with migraine?

The neck pain of migraine is not associated with increased trapezius activity, but more research is needed to look at other neck muscles and their activity during a migraine attack.1 The trapezius muscle is used to tilt and turn the head and shrug the shoulders. It also helps move and rotate the shoulder blades. It is not clear why or how neck pain occurs with migraine, and sometimes somatic pain syndromes are associated with migraine.2

How is neck pain treated?

If neck pain is part of the migraine itself, treating the migraine attack should help improve the neck pain as well. If neck pain is not relieved with treatment of the migraine, call your doctor.

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Tracking your migraine symptoms

Keeping a record of your migraine symptoms may help you figure out patterns and triggers to your attacks. It may be helpful to record such things as:

  • When and where your pain or symptoms start
  • Whether the pain spreads to your entire head or neck
  • How well and how quickly acute treatment helps reduce the pain or other symptoms
  • How long your pain or symptoms last
  • Whether you experience other symptoms such as vision changes, nausea, or light sensitivity

Community experiences of migraine and neck pain

Migraine.com advocates frequently write about their experiences with neck pain. They discuss the importance of choosing the perfect pillow as well as neck pain and the pleasure and pain of hair salons. From highlighting research that reviews just how disabling neck pain can be during migraine attacks to discussing how a stiff neck prior to a migraine can be visible to others, the migraine community often chimes in to share their experiences with neck pain.

Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last review date: December 2019
  1. Luedtke K, Mehnert J, May A. Altered muscle activity during rest and during mental or physical activity is not a trait symptom of migraine – a neck muscle EMG study. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2018; 19:26. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-018-0851-5
  2. Pradhan S. & Choudhury SS. Clinical characterization of neck pain in migraine. Neurol India. 2018; 66(2): 377-384. doi: 10.4103/0028-3886.227302.