Head and neck pain are among the more common types of pain conditions. Some types of neck pain and headaches are acute, or caused by injury or a temporary condition. Others types may become chronic, lasting well beyond the expected healing time frame. The causes of neck pain and headache vary, and conditions range from serious to benign.
Tension headaches commonly cause symptoms of head and neck pain. Tension headache pain often feels like a tight band of pressure around the forehead and may spread into surrounding areas such as the neck and the shoulders. According to Medline Plus, the pain from a tension headache is diffuse and is generally located around the forehead and temples as well as the back of the neck and shoulders. Stress or other environmental factors may trigger a tension headache, and the resulting head and neck pain may be occasional or may become chronic.
Structural Neck Damage
In some cases, neck pain is caused by structural problems in the neck, such as with the muscles and joints of the vertebrae. Examples include arthritis, problems with the discs between the vertebrae and whiplash injuries. As expected, neck conditions commonly cause neck pain that may spread to the back and shoulders. However, a headache may accompany this neck pain. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons warns that a person with a neck condition who develops headaches should consult his doctor. This is especially true if the headache is accompanied by sensation changes, such as tingling in the hands or any new numbness.
Pain With Other Symptoms
Sometimes, medical conditions can cause neck and headache pain as a side effect. These include conditions that affect the musculoskeletal system, such as fibromyalgia. Another common disorder that can cause head and neck pain is temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. Both of these conditions tend to cause a variety of other symptoms. Along with headache and neck pain, the Mayo Clinic reports that TMJ may be accompanied by jaw pain and difficulty with jaw movements. Fibromyalgia usually causes widespread fatigue and pain in other areas of the body.
With so many different potential triggers of headache and neck pain, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. Because of this, diagnosing the cause can take longer than expected. In addition to taking a complete history, a doctor may perform a physical exam as well as order other diagnostic tests, such as an MRI or x-ray. Writing down symptoms in a pain journal can help, especially if symptoms are common to many potential diagnoses. Including the type and location of pain, as well as the time of day it occurs can help steer a physician in the right direction.
Prognosis and Treatment
Treatments for neck pain and headache vary based on the cause. Because there are so many potential diagnoses, the prognosis for neck pain and headache treatment varies. For instance, a tension headache may be prevented with prophylactic medications or tamed with painkillers. A headache caused by a slipped disc in the neck, however, may require a more severe intervention, such as surgery.