Use Your Head: 4 Ways Spinal Problems Cause Headaches

Written by Bob O'Grady on . Posted in Blog

The process to develop an effective approach to pain management is often complex. Your health care providers may have to account for several symptoms that aren’t necessarily directly related to the center of your pain.

For example, in our last blog, “The Connection Between Your Digestive Health and Back Pain,” we discussed how your diet and your digestive system health problems can contribute to spinal pain, and vice versa.

In this blog, we’ll discuss one of the most common back pain–related complications: headaches. Here are four ways that spinal issues can contribute to or cause headaches.

1. They Encourage Stress and Physical Stress Responses

Back problems, especially those that inhibit your normal range of motion, can feel frustrating. Often, individuals with spinal issues must tailor their work, socialization, and recreation habits to cause the least amount of back pain possible.

In some cases, this arrangement may mean working less, bowing out of social interactions, or decreasing the amount of exercise you’re used to, all of which can contribute to feelings of stress. As emotional stress increases, your body may also exhibit more physical stress responses.

Stress responses such as stiffness, fatigue, and muscle aches may trigger the development of a headache or make an existing headache more intense.

2. They Increase Pressure on the Neck and Skull

Some headaches are caused by neurological factors or by illness, such as a sinusitis or another infection. However, other headaches stem from misalignment in the body that puts strain on the muscles and connective tissues at the base of the head and in the neck.

For example, localized pain in the right lower back caused by a pulled muscle may force the body to compensate. Because you cannot move your hips or torso freely, you may rely more on your neck and shoulders, eventually overtaxing those muscles. As muscles in the upper back become strained, they tighten and put pressure on the neck and skull.

Tension from a pulled muscle can exacerbate the pain of a headache. These headaches may be impossible to resolve completely without first addressing the underlying back problem.

3. They Limit Tension Release

Even back pain that is dull rather than acute can contribute to headaches. Twinges, aches, and pains force you to use different motions throughout your day. Sometimes back pain can necessitate bending at awkward angles during routines like getting out of bed or dressing yourself. In other cases, mild back pain may force you to stay in one comfortable position for long periods of time.

Both of these responses to spinal issues can inhibit the way your body releases tension. Instead of rolling your shoulders, rotating your torso, or doing other brief activities to help your muscles stay limber, you may worry about aggravating your back problem.

Tension anywhere in the body can contribute to headaches, but tension in the back is particularly problematic. In many cases, back tension can correlate to tightness in the jaw, at the base of the skull, and in the trapezius shoulder muscles, leading to more frequent and more intense headaches.

If you have a minor injury, massage, low-impact exercise, and other relaxation techniques may help you reduce your tension. However, a milder pain does not necessarily mean that your back problem is not serious. If this issue persists, see a spinal health expert.

4. They Pinch Sensitive Nerves

Back health issues can stem from any component of spine, including the vertebrae, the ligaments, and the surrounding nerves. When a portion of the spine shifts or becomes inflamed, the issue may change the position of a nerve or trap the nerve in an enclosed space.

These pinched nerves often result in sudden, sharp pains in the spine. However, depending on which nerves are affected, pinched nerves could cause immediate neurological symptoms.

In addition to general headaches, pinched nerves can contribute to migraines, cause lightheadedness or fainting, result in feelings of nausea, or create feelings of vertigo.

These symptoms may come and go as the nerve becomes more or less confined during regular motions. When these neurological symptoms result in loss of consciousness, falls, or other medical emergencies, it’s crucial that an expert works to address the back problem.

For some patients, manual adjustments provided by a licensed chiropractor or physical therapist can reduce the pressure put on the affected nerve. Over time, adjustments may help some patients experience fewer headaches and other neurological problems caused by irregular nerve positioning.

When you attempt to treat a headache, always include measures to alleviate other problems that could be contributing to the pain.

Do you suspect that your frequent headaches are related to a back problem? Discuss your symptoms and medical history with one of the pain management and neurology experts at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates to begin reducing both your headaches and back discomfort. Make an appointment with our team today.