Neck Pain and Headaches: Causes and Treatments

A common combination

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Headaches and neck pain are two very common symptoms. When they happen together, it may indicate certain medical issues. Causes of headaches with neck pain range from problems that are bothersome but not dangerous (like a hangover) to life-threatening issues (like fluid buildup in the brain).

But it’s important for you to know that all the causes of headaches with neck pain are treatable. So if you’re having headaches with neck pain, see a healthcare provider immediately. You might need emergency treatment, or you may need to get started on long-term therapy.

This article will discuss the symptoms of neck pain with headache, what can cause these symptoms, when to see a healthcare provider, treatment, and prevention.

Person at laptop computer on table feeling headache and neck pain

FG Trade / Getty Images

Symptoms of Headache and Neck Pain

When you have a headache with neck pain, the symptoms of each problem are similar to what they each feel like when they occur alone.

Headache can present as:

  • Head soreness 
  • Sharp head pain  
  • Throbbing or pounding head pain 
  • A feeling of fullness of the head 

Neck pain can present as: 

  • Pain in the back of the neck 
  • Pain or aching of the upper back or shoulders 

Associated Symptoms

It’s common to have additional symptoms when you experience headaches and neck pain together. 

Symptoms associated with headaches and neck pain:

  • Nausea 
  • Neck stiffness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Photophobia (discomfort when looking at bright lights) 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Vertigo (feeling like the room is spinning)
  • Aching throughout the body 
  • Exhaustion or sleepiness 
  • A feeling of numbness or tingling down the arm 

Generally, these associated symptoms suggest a more severe cause of headaches with neck pain. They can help guide your healthcare provider in making a diagnosis.

When to Seek Emergency Help

New symptoms of headache or neck pain can indicate a serious condition. Get prompt medical attention if you develop these symptoms together.

What Causes Headaches With Neck Pain? 

There are a variety of medical conditions that can cause headaches with neck pain. These conditions are both caused by irritation of sensory nerve fibers, and sometimes head or neck pain can spread to the other area because the sensory nerves of these structures are physically so close to each other.

Additionally, a medical condition that affects one (like an infection) can affect the other due to their proximity. 

Causes of headaches with neck pain include: 

  • Migraine: Migraines are commonly associated with headaches, and they often cause neck pain as well. In addition, they may cause nausea and body aches.
  • Headaches: Sinus headaches, tension headaches, and cervicogenic headaches are usually associated with head pain, but they can also involve neck pain. 
  • Fatigue: Being tired commonly leads to temporary headache and neck pain until you get some rest.
  • Alcohol or a hangover: For many people, drinking can trigger a headache. This is a common trigger for migraine, but alcohol can also trigger headaches for people who don’t have migraines. 
  • Muscle strain: Prolonged or recurrent positions that strain the neck muscles, like lifting or sitting at a computer, can cause aching or pain that involves both the head and neck.
  • Injuries: Trauma such as whiplash or falling can cause soreness in the head and neck. Severe injuries can cause damage to the skull, brain, spine, spinal nerves, or spinal cord. Bruises or other injuries may be present too.
  • Concussion: A concussion (a mild form of traumatic brain injury resulting in a change in brain function) often causes trouble concentrating, persistent headaches, and neck pain. Usually, these symptoms improve within a few weeks after a mild concussion. 
  • Meningitis: Inflammation or infection of the lining around the brain and spinal cord causes pain or tenderness of the head and back, including the neck. Neck stiffness and fever are commonly associated symptoms.
  • Pinched nerve: Arthritis is a common cause of pressure on spinal nerves. A pinched nerve in the upper spine can cause pain in the head and neck, along with tingling down the arm.
  • Herniated disc: Degenerative arthritis or trauma can cause a spinal disc to press on a nerve and possibly on the spinal cord. This may cause loss of sensation or weakness of the arm.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: This is a serious condition caused by bleeding of a blood vessel in the brain. Irritation and inflammation can cause severe head and neck pain, possibly with seizures and loss of consciousness.
  • Hydrocephalus: Fluid can accumulate around the brain, causing pain-inducing pressure. Causes include obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid flow due to brain tumors, brain infections, or congenital (from birth) malformations.
  • Increased intracranial pressure: Pressure on the brain and blood vessels of the brain can cause pain. Causes of pressure within the skull include hydrocephalus, head trauma, brain tumors, or swelling from a stroke. Severe cases can cause lethargy or loss of consciousness.
  • Brain or spine cancer: Cancer of the brain or within the spine can cause pain affecting the head and neck, often with other symptoms, such as vision loss. 

Need for Medical Attention

It can be difficult to know whether headaches with neck pain are caused by a serious problem. The more dangerous conditions don’t necessarily cause more severe pain. This is why it’s so crucial to get medical attention if you have these symptoms together.

How to Treat Headaches With Neck Pain

Talk to a healthcare provider about the following treatments if you experience headache with neck pain.

Treating headaches with neck pain includes methods that address symptoms (symptomatic therapies) and treatment of the underlying cause. Often, the medications used for headaches with neck pain effectively reduce both symptoms, but this depends on the cause. 

Treatments that can relieve both headaches and neck pain when they occur together include:

  • Getting some sleep to relieve fatigue 
  • Pain medication to relieve pain after minor trauma 
  • Migraine medication or sinus headache treatment
  • Rest and rehabilitation after a concussion or another injury 
  • Fluids for meningitis treatment and antibiotics for bacterial meningitis 
  • Surgical procedures for a tumor or subarachnoid hemorrhage 
  • A procedure to relieve hydrocephalus 

Headache Remedies

There are a few things you can do to relieve your headaches, and although they won't directly take away your neck pain, your headache relief might also decrease your neck pain. These include:

  • Staying away from bright lights or wearing sunglasses 
  • Avoiding loud noises 
  • Scalp massage or gentle scalp pressure 

Neck Pain Remedies 

Some treatments can specifically treat the neck pain that you're experiencing. These include:

  • Exercise, stretching, and physical therapy
  • Ice or heat 
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Injected anti-inflammatory or pain treatment 

What About Young Children?  

Headaches with neck pain can affect children. Young children with headaches and neck pain need a comprehensive medical workup to evaluate the problem.

Treatment is similar to that of adults. However, do not give aspirin for pain or fever relief to children or teenagers as it might be linked to Reye's syndrome, a life-threatening condition.

Certain brain tumors are more common among children, and hydrocephalus can persist after tumor removal. This often necessitates ventricular shunt placement to prevent the recurrence of hydrocephalus.

How to Prevent Headaches With Neck Pain

Preventing headaches with neck pain involves generally trying to stay healthy to avoid problems like meningitis or a hangover. Additionally, if you have a specific condition, like migraines, that makes you prone to headaches with neck pain, you might need to take special precautions to minimize the risk of recurrence. 

Preventative strategies depend on your individual risk factors and include: 

  • Not drinking alcohol to the point of getting headaches, and making sure to eat and drink enough water if you’re drinking alcohol 
  • Avoiding migraine triggers, and possibly taking preventative migraine treatments 
  • Getting enough rest 
  • Staying adequately hydrated and not skipping meals 
  • Taking treatment to prevent sinus congestion if you have allergies or a cold
  • Getting vaccinated against Neisseria meningitides, one of the causes of meningitis 
  • Sitting in a good position while working at the computer
  • Avoiding excessive lifting, and making sure you lift items properly when you are carrying objects at work or otherwise
  • Avoiding head injuries, which may include things like wearing a helmet when riding a bike or participating in contact sports 
  • Getting regular checkups to examine your ventricular shunt if you have one

If you have recurrent headaches with neck pain, you can speak with a healthcare provider to come up with a plan to prevent your symptoms from flaring up. 

When to See Your Healthcare Provider 

You should see a healthcare provider if you or your child develop new headaches or neck pain or if these symptoms occur together. 

Get prompt medical attention if you also have:

  • A fever 
  • Severe vomiting 
  • Feeling off balance 
  • Any change in consciousness 
  • Confusion 
  • Seizures 


Headaches and neck pain often occur together, and the combination can signal many common problems, including fatigue, migraines, and sinus headaches. This combination can also occur due to serious health issues such as a concussion or meningitis.

It’s important to get medical attention if you have headaches with neck pain. The severity of the pain doesn’t necessarily correlate with the severity of the cause. Other associated symptoms can help point to the underlying cause. With an accurate diagnosis, treatment and prevention can be effective. 

A Word From Verywell

It’s distressing to have headaches with neck pain. Get prompt medical attention if these symptoms are new to you.

If you frequently have both headaches and neck pain, it can have a substantial impact on your quality of life. There are ways to manage the symptoms, including preventative measures such as physical therapy, exercises, and avoiding triggers. 

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Houle M, Lessard A, Marineau-Bélanger É, et al. Factors associated with headache and neck pain among telecommuters - a five days follow-up. BMC Public Health. 2021;21(1):1086. doi:10.1186/s12889-021-11144-6

  3. Langner S, Fleck S, Baldauf J, et al. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of hydrocephalus in adults. Rofo. 2017;189(8):728-739. doi:10.1055/s-0043-108550

  4. Petersen SM, Jull GA, Learman KE. Self-reported sinus headaches are associated with neck pain and cervical musculoskeletal dysfunction: a preliminary observational case control study. J Man Manip Ther. 2019;27(4):245-252. doi:10.1080/10669817.2019.1572987

  5. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Reye's syndrome information page.

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.