Can Neck Pain Cause Headaches?

Neck X-ray

Do you suffer from both neck pain and headaches? Can neck pain cause headaches??

Headaches can be disabling – making it difficult or impossible to socialize, exercise, work and even sleep. There are many different causes of headaches, and it can be confusing to unravel what exactly is causing yours – could it be a migraine, your computer, or caffeine withdrawal?

Or, could your neck be the cause of your headache? Read on to find out:

  • Can neck pain cause headache?
  • What can you do to get rid of neck pain and headache?

Can the neck cause a headache?

When the upper neck joints aren’t functioning at their best, they can actually refer pain up into your head. Referred pain simply means that you feel pain in a different location than the actual problem area. So in this case, even though the upper neck needs some work, you end up feeling pain in the head instead of, or in addition to, the neck. This is called cervicogenic headache (CGH).

Neck Diagram

One thing that differentiates CGH from other headaches is that it typically starts after having your neck in the same position for a long time (or even just an awkward position for a short time). This type of headache is usually one-sided and starts at the back of the head, working its way up and around the ear to the forehead and behind the eye. You might even have some pain into your shoulder and arm. You’ll also likely notice some stiffness and neck pain with turning your head or looking up and down.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If so, you’re in luck! It turns out that physical therapy is wildly successful in treating these types of headaches.

What can you do to relieve neck-related headaches?

Start off by seeing a physical therapist or other healthcare clinician. Since there are many possible causes of headache, you’ll want to make sure you see an expert who will know exactly how to treat your specific case.

Once the cause of your headache has been determined to be the neck, a physical therapist can perform hands-on treatments to get the neck joints and muscles moving more freely. They’ll follow that up with specific exercises to improve coordination, strength and flexibility of the muscles that support your head. These could include muscles around the neck, shoulders, and upper back. (Spoiler alert – one of these could be to address your tight pec minor muscle). Your physical therapist may also check out posture at your desk or in your car to reduce the amount of time spent in aggravating positions. A combined approach of education, hands-on treatments and take-home exercises works the best to relieve CGH for the long-term.

Check out the sample exercises below:


Prone “I” exercise

Lying face down with your arms by your side, slowly move your arms upward towards the ceiling as you squeeze your shoulder blades downwards and towards your spine. Do 10 sets hold each for 5 seconds. If you feel comfortable, lift your chin gently off the towel roll simultaneously while moving your arms upwards (left).


Supine Chin Tucks

CERVICAL CHIN TUCK AND RETRACTION - SUPINE WITH TOWEL While lying on your back with a small folded up towel under your head, tuck your chin towards your chest. Also, focus on applying pressure on the towel with the back of your head. Maintain contact of head with the towel the entire time. Hold each chin tuck for 10 seconds if comfortable. Try to do 8-10 repetitions.


Shoulder pain can be closely related to neck pain and headaches – find out more to understand your neck & shoulder pain, and what to do about it.

If you’re dealing with neck pain and headaches, call us today to find out if we can help!

If you want to get on my schedule - and talk to me for free – click the link below.

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Trupti Mehta, PT, MS, OCS
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