Migraine is a complex medical condition with a variety of associated symptoms. The primary symptom is a recurrent headache that can range from painful to excruciating. Other symptoms may be unstable vision, sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells, and possible nausea and vomiting.
Typically, the migraine headaches affect only one half of the head, and often include pulsating or throbbing sensations.
Migraine attacks can be very disturbing and disabling and may require isolating oneself in a quiet, dark room and lying quietly in bed for the duration – which could be for a few hours, or even days. After that, some more time may be needed to fully recover. Migraine can have a huge negative impact on a person’s professional, family, and social life.
The symptoms vary from person to person and even attack to attack for the same individual. These could differ in length, intensity, and frequency. Most people are asymptomatic between attacks, meaning they seem to feel fine.
To describe a migraine as “just a headache” is to really oversimplify the nature of this condition. It is best described by Professor Peter Goadsby, Professor of Neurology at King’s College, London, UK. He talks of migraine as an “inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance…an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information.”
What exactly causes a migraine is still not fully understood, but the current consensus is that it is caused by a combination of changing factors in the nerves and blood vessels in the head.
Migraine Neck Pain
Neck issues leading to a migraine are less common causes, but they do occur. The nerves in the neck traveling into the head can get over-stimulated and cause a migraine – like a cervicogenic headache. When the pain signals reach the head, they cause a migraine to those people that are prone to them.
Neck pain was not considered a common cause or symptom of migraines until recently. Although many sufferers experience neck pain right before or after a migraine attack.
The National Headache Foundation found 38% of migraine patients “always” have neck pain, and 31% “frequently” have neck pain during migraine headaches.
Pain in the neck is now recognized as a symptom for some migraine sufferers. This pain may include neck muscles or nerves; and spinal bones and disks. It’s like a migraine headache that radiates upwards from neck to head.
Migraine and Neck Pain Studies
A 2010 study of 113 patients concluded that neck pain symptoms occurred with migraine attacks more often than nausea, even though nausea is the most commonly associated symptom.
Another informal survey of 144 migraine sufferers found that 75 percent confirmed they experienced neck pain with their migraines, along with sensitivity to light, sound, and nausea, the top symptoms. Neck pain was three times more present than migraine aura and vomiting.
The types of pain differed:
- 69% felt tightness in the neck
- 17% experienced stiffness in the neck
- 60% said the neck pain came first before the headache
A larger study conducted by a group of researchers led by Dr. Anne Calhoun finally gave some definitive answers. The objective was:
“To determine the prevalence of neck pain at the time of migraine treatment relative to the prevalence of nausea, a defining associated symptom of migraine.”
Study results specific to neck pain:
- Neck pain was more prevalent than nausea at all stages.
- Neck pain was more prevalent than nausea, regardless of intensity of headache.
- Neck pain was chronic as Migraineurs (a person who suffers from migraine headaches) moved from attack to attack.
- Neck pain is a common and integral feature of migraine.
- Neck pain is more commonly associated with migraine than nausea.
Greater awareness of neck pain as an associated symptom of migraine may improve diagnostic accuracy and have a beneficial impact on treatment.
There was a long delay in recognizing neck pain as a symptom of migraine, perhaps because “migraineurs” discounted it as something they because used to, or focused on other better-recognized symptoms.
Studies prove that neck pain is definitively a symptom of a migraine attack. It is often more common than nausea, which is a diagnostic criterion for the International Headache Society.
Patients who experience neck pain during, before, or after a migraine should discuss it with their doctor to ensure that it is associated with their migraine and not an unrelated condition. This way they can draw up a plan to treat and manage their migraine attacks better.
At Kamerlink Pain Institute, we focus on treating your pain, from the cause to the cure, and onwards to lasting relief. Call (561) 404-7667 for a consultation with a pain management physician that can help to diagnose and treat your painful condition.