Causes of Headaches

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Headaches


Chronic Headache? - the cause could be your neck

Causes of headaches
Headaches can result from neck trouble

If you have a chronic headache and are reading this, you have already probably visited your Doctor and received some information and maybe some relief. However, if you are reading this article you are probably in need of some extra help!

So, what are the main causes of headaches? Well there are too many causes to answer in this section and some more serious than others - so always get a persistent headache looked at by a medical professional early. In this article, I am going to concentrate on the types of headaches that are caused from problems, and often pain, further down the neck and back.

Headaches associated with neck pain are very common indeed and I treat them daily in my physiotherapy practice. I find that they are more common in women than men.

There a various forms and causes of headaches associated with neck pain, but the nature of the pain is similar for these causes - it usually presents as a dull headache, and commonly on one side only. It can affect the eyes and it usually arises after the neck pain has started. but the most common types that physiotherapy treats:

  • Neck pain and pain over the top of your head. It is usually a dull constant ache and often worse in the morning.

  • Neck pain with pain at the back and base of your head. People with this type of headache often complain of their head feeling too heavy for their body.

  • Neck pain with pain around the ears. This can be due to the neck referring to the ears directly or it can be secondary to ear infections or other similar problems.

Why do they occur? Of the cases I see most regularly, I can put them into the following groups:

  1. Poor posture: In my experience, this is the most common root cause associated with headaches and neck pain. People usually present with a “chin-poked” posture. This is where your chin is poked too far forward placing excess pressure on structures around the top of your back and neck. This can result in neck pain and associated headaches. I especially see this in office workers and people who drive a lot.

  2. Joint stiffness: Can also cause neck pain and headaches. If the joints in your neck are stiff then the muscles around the base of your neck can become tight. When combined these factors can cause headaches.

  3. Stress: Can also cause neck-related headaches. Stress can result in tight muscles and poor posture. Combined - these factors can result in pain. For these cases I find Cranio-Sacral therapy in conjunction with Physiotherapy is effective.

  4. Overuse: Occurs when repetitive postures and movements place excess pressure on the structures at the top of your neck. This can result in many possible injuries - one being neck pain and headaches.

  5. Whiplash: Is where your neck has been strained in a whiplash motion. Headaches often result from the pressure placed on the neck in this injury. This type of headache must be treated at its early stages as if left too long can be quite stubborn to treat!

  6. Disc Lesions: Can cause neck pain and headaches. The headaches can result directly from the pressure the dislodged disc is placing on a nerve, or it can be a secondary response to the tight muscles and joint involved.

Sponsored links

Treating neck related headaches

Treatment of neck pain and headaches depends on the cause. As always, removing the cause of the headache is the goal. After the cause has been identified and removed, further treatments including mobilisations (to ease tight muscles) and exercise and postural corrections (to address movement and structural dysfunctions), along with stress management usually resolve neck pain and headaches.

Orthopaedic pillows often help greatly in the management of headaches associated with neck pain . However, your pillow must be of good quality and be the correct size for you. Ask your physiotherapist/ physical therapist to measure you and recommend a suitable pillow size where possible. Poorly fitted pillows aren’t worth the money and make for uncomfortable sleeping positions. If unlucky, they can do more harm than good to your neck and spine.

Finally, never ignore an ongoing headache - it is essential to seek medical advice and attention at the early stages of a persistent headache and get it checked out by a physician. The symptoms mostly can be easily treated and you need to eliminate the possibility of more serious conditions such as blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, meningitis, and even brain tumours.


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

Please read the full disclaimer here.

Cookies and Privacy

By using this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy. For more information on how we use cookies, please read our cookie policy here.