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How Headaches Might Stem from a Back Problem

Dealing with chronic headaches is tough enough, but if they’re linked to a back problem, that’s double-trouble. The two conditions are so common that they rank in the top five causes for disability worldwide. If you have both at the same time, you may be receiving treatment for two different issues, when you should be treated for one.

To accurately make that diagnosis, you need an experienced medical professional, such as board-certified pain management specialist Dinash Yanamadula, MD, of Princeton Pain & Spine Institute in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. 

His unique multidisciplinary approach enables him to evaluate conditions from a variety of perspectives and treat your condition holistically. If your headaches are caused by a problem in your back, he’ll find the root cause and treat your entire condition rather than merely addressing your individual symptoms. Here’s how your back and head health are related.

A word about headaches

Chronic headaches have multiple causes and types. Primary headaches ― such as tension headaches ― are those that constitute a condition in and of themselves. Secondary headaches ― such as sinus headaches ― are those that are caused by another condition.

At any given time, about half of the adult population suffers from recurring headaches. These can be caused from a vast array of problems, but they’re primarily due to tension, migraines, illness, or injury.

A word about back pain

Back pain is another complex medical condition, since it involves one of the most intricate and complicated areas of your anatomy — your spine. Almost all adults experience back pain at some point in their lives, and about 20% suffer from it chronically. 

Whether you have spinal stenosis, sciatica, arthritis, or any of the other numerous common back conditions, you’re likely to have chronic pain. To add insult to injury, some of these conditions may lead to headaches as well.

How back pain and headaches are linked

Just because you experience back pain and headaches at the same time doesn’t mean your back problem is the cause of your headaches. 

For instance, if you have an illness, such as meningitis, you may feel pain in your back and have a headache, but the primary cause of both is the infection. In a similar way, women who have achy backs during menstruation may also get headaches, but those symptoms are caused by hormonal fluctuations and cramping. 

However, sometimes your headache can be a direct result of your back problem. Here are some examples:

Cervicogenic headaches

A cervicogenic headache is one that stems from problems in your upper spine and neck. These problems often involve damage or deterioration of the facet joints due to arthritis or trauma. Inflammation in these joints can result in muscle spasms and tightness, and pain can travel to the base of your skull and to the top of your head.

Migraine headaches

While common migraine triggers include certain foods and bright lights, neck and back pain can also trigger migraines. If you have an injury anywhere along your spine, the pain from it can spark a migraine or increase the frequency of your migraines. 

Spinal headaches

Another back-related headache, called a spinal headache, has a very specific cause — a spinal tap. This is the procedure doctors use to take a sample of your spinal fluid or administer pain medication during childbirth. If a puncture occurs, and your cerebrospinal fluid leaks out, it can be very painful and cause excruciating headaches.

Backaches and headaches go hand in hand

In addition to the relationships just mentioned, back pain and headaches share a mysterious affinity for one another that isn’t fully understood. Studies show that people who have either chronic backaches or headaches are twice as likely to have the other condition as well, especially lower back pain

Clearly, anything that affects your muscles, nerves, or blood flow in your spine has the power to transfer that pain north to your head. But there may also be an underlying psychological component that is linked to how your body and mind register pain.

Treating the two as one

Dr. Yanamadula will look at all aspects of your headaches and back pain to determine if they are linked. If they are, he can treat them together with a targeted combination of therapies, including exercise, medications, and pain management techniques.

If you have headaches and back pain and are wondering if they are related, book an appointment online or over the phone with Princeton Pain & Spine Institute today.

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