Neck pain and headache

Neck pain and headache are kindred spirits born in the same pod; chiropractic has in large measure the solution, or at least a significant part of it.

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This page was last updated by Dr Barrie Lewis on 30th July, 2019.

A blinding ache emanating from the cervical spine or jaw joint can floor the toughest of human beings. Oddly, it's at the extremities of the body where sensory perception is felt with the greatest intensity; the feet and hands, and the face. Those parts of us that are most vitally in contact with the environment have the most receptors.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the nociceptors in these self same structures can and do flood the brain with nervous impulses. We just feel noxious stimuli from the cervical spine more intensely.

It's rare that even the worst sore back will drive a person to tears, but even the toughest and most rugged individuals must sometimes submit to the cervical spine.

It can humble any one of us.

Whereas one can usually find respite from a very sore back in certain positions, from the painful neck there is often no escape; it hurts.

The sensory nucleus of the trigeminal n. is located in the upper neck; it's the largest of the cranial nerves, supplying the jaw joint. The TMJ is a major cause of severe headaches.

Giraffes necking it; I wonder if any headache?

Neck pain and headache

Neck pain and headache are so connected because of highly sensitive receptors in the cervical spine.

"The most significant input into the Central Nervous System with regard to balance, posture and movement comes from the mechano-receptors of the cervical spine."

- Guyton (the most revered textbook of Medical Physiology.)

Occiput, atlas and axis subluxations are common causes of neck pain and headache.

Just how bad is the ache? Are you exaggerating? The arm pain quick dash score gives you a fairly objective measure of your hand and shoulder discomfort. A slipped disc in the neck causing a radiating tingling feeling can be extremely unpleasant.

What is the reason that the pain can be so bad? The head and neck, and hands and feet are full of nerves finding their way from a zillion nociceptors in the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and fascia; they send information to the brain.

The burst of impulses from an injured part serve to remind the central nervous system that all is not well in the state of Denmark; Hamlet, I believe.

Turning off the pain isn't the solution.

Some 80 percent of headaches originate in the structures of the neck. It could be muscular, or a cervical joint that is causing your pain; an old whiplash perhaps.

Some part is firing these noxious impulses into the spinal cord.

Interestingly only a small proportion of them are referred to the brain, but enough when it's coming from the cervical spine to cause a blinding migraine.

The rest incite the autonomic system, stimulating the sympathetic nerves, and adversely affecting your general well-being.

A week never passes when I don't have a new patient in the clinic who is taking 15 or more pills per week for neck pain and headache; which they  have been suffering from for years. The effect on the organs is devastating.

The Kidney Olympics are a stark reminder to us of the danger of chronic analgesic medication. Most of those athletes lost them through painkillers; dialysis is not pleasant but it does save their lives.

The risk of kidney illness can be reduced by keeping your blood pressure and sugar within norms, maintaining a body mass index of not higher than around 28, quitting smoking, taking regular exercise and avoiding excessive use of those drugs that can damage the kidneys; high on the list are ibuprofen and naproxen.

Add those foods that are proven to be anti-inflammatory in nature to your diet, like our Irish potato leek soup.

This next link is a must for all those taking a lot of pain medication. Find another solution to your headaches.

Woman suffering from headache.

Whilst there is no research confirming it, there are persistent anecdotal reports that increasing your fluid intake helps reduce headaches. There's no better, healthier way to do that than a bag of oranges and a juice press; dilute it perhaps by half with spring water. If you are prediabetic, always take a walk after any food, and especially snacks, containing simple sugars.


Chiropractic has a quite different opinion about neck pain and headache to medicine. We say treat the cause. If a bone in the neck is fractured or the ligaments torn in a whiplash, put the neck in a collar. If a muscle is tight, stretch it. If a joint is fixated, adjust it. These treatments have no side-effects, or very few. And if anyone tries to convince you that Chiropractic is dangerous, just ask why their insurance premiums are less than a tenth of their medical colleagues.

Medicine says kill the neck pain and headache by taking these analgesics, or deal with the inflammation, take these anti-inflammatories. Did you know that 14 000 people a year actually die in the USA from a bleeding ulcer caused by ANTI INFLAMMATORY DRUGS?

And that doesn't include those who have a heart attack or stroke, other side effects. Little wonder that malpractice premiums are so high! Read more about the massive fraud committed by PFIZER BEXTRA to hide the dangers of their drugs.

And then there's of course the question how safe is chiropractic?

  • The standard Chiropractic test for neck pain. CERVICAL COMPRESSION TEST... a fun page, don't miss it!

Google appears to frown on too many links, so phrases in bold, like that above, need to be put into the Site Search function in the navigation bar on your left if you want more information.

Rebound headache

Rebound headache finds, strange as it may seem, that overuse of painkillers is the main cause of chronic, frequent cephalgia. One in twenty-five people suffer from CFH.

You can read more at the link below; there are better solutions to neck pain and headache.

Whilst this will not endear me to some of my colleaguesI would suggest that overuse of anything, including chiropractic manipulation, in the treatment of chronic, frequent headache should be suspect.

A severe headache can very infrequently be the prelude to a stroke. Afterwards, patients remark that it was the most severe pain of their lives. Rather deal with the cause before it reaches this stage.

Doctors also get sick, chiropractors hurt their backs, and I'm sure dentists also need attention periodically. In this interview with a neurologist who had a severe stroke from which she was very fortunate to recover, taking 10 years of perseverance, she describes in graphic detail what happened.

I don't often enthuse about things medical, but this is an interview you don't want to miss. It's spell binding.

Was she taking post menopausal hormone tablets? I don't know, but they do raise the risk of haemorrhagic stroke. Read more about doctor caused disease, also known as iatrogenic illness. 

Sodium and potassium

There is much research confirming that a diet that is high in sodium, and low in potassium raises the risk of hypertension and headache.

The average diet has more than 50% over the recommended 2300 mg of sodium per day. Most of it comes from processed, fast foods.

And keep the potassium levels up but enjoying more fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, dairy and oily fish like salmon.

Fresh corn and green beans make a great combination, as do green leafy salads and avocados; with only a minimum of salt.


Dizziness may sometimes accompany neck pain and headache. It can be mild, and it can be very DISCONCERTING. VERY. Nausea and vomiting may accompany the vertigo if it affects the eyes; it's called nystagmus.

There are numerous causes.

  1. One is Meniere's disease, but can only be diagnosed if there is accompanying deafness and tinnitis, or ringing in the ears.
  2. BPPV. More commonly vertigo is caused by grit that collects in one of the inner ear "semi-circular" canals.
Calcium sediment in the semi circular canals in the inner ear is the usual of vertigo.

It has been conclusively shown, many times, that the best treatment for vertigo, is NOT PILLS, nor a CHIROPRACTIC ADJUSTMENT, but the EPLEY MANOEUVRES. The most common cause of vertigo is called Benign Postural Positional Vertigo. BPPV is diagnosed by a simple manoeuvre called the HALLPIKE-DIX test.

  • Read more about the HALLPIKE DIX test.
  • Read more about Epley manoeuvres.

To find links to topics in bold use the site search function in the navigation bar on your left.

Jaw joint and facial pain

The jaw joint and facial pain are closely allied; the trigeminal nerve supplies both.

The jaw may cause TMJ ear pain, the Temporo Mandibular Joint, another frequent cause of neck pain and headaches sometimes accompanied by facial and mistaken for ear pain. Jaw joint pain is also intimately involved in migraine headache.

  • If you enjoy reading then this chiropractic short story about jaw joint pain from Frog in my Throat, FATHER TIME will interest you.
  • Migraine headache

Google appears to frown on too many links, so phrases in bold, like Father Time above, need to be put into the Site Search function in the navigation bar on your left if you want more information.

Stroke and headache

One of the signs of an impending stroke is headache; if you experience what you may describe as the worst headache of your life, do not consult your GP or chiropractor; go straight to the emergency rooms; especially if there's sudden onset. 

Rembrandt's classic painting of a physician peeling off the meninges, likely of a patient suffering from headache and neck pain.

REMBRANDT - A physician peeling the meninges off the brain.


Evening before last, after a long day I arrived home with dull upper neck pain and headache. Drat, I thought, it's at least three months since I have had my own spine adjusted.

I enjoyed a quiet evening, listened to some Vivaldi, enjoyed some of the good wife's celery soup and went off to an early night with a Sudoku, but could not concentrate.

I woke up yesterday quite normally. I then turned my head to the right to look at the clock, and the whole world began to spin. Interestingly it rotated at different speeds, speeding up, and then slowing down again. I jerked my head back again to the centre. The dizziness stopped. Cautiously I turned right again, and it all started over again.

I asked my wife, Helen, to please do me a favour. Quickly, don't ask any questions, just look at my eyes and tell me there is anything odd happening. She sat up worried and looked carefully as I turned my head again to the right.

She told me they were dancing back and forth.

"I'm having an attack of vertigo," I said.

"I must go through a strange routine." Four times I went through the Epley's, each time the vertigo getting less, but feeling quite nauseous. You have to wait in each position until the turmoil stops. It is not nice, to say the least. By the fourth it had stopped completely. There was no neck pain or headache.

I got up quietly, went through the morning routine without drama, and worked a normal day. This morning I had no vertigo, nor neck pain or headache.

Neck subluxation

A third cause is in the upper neck where the artery can become disturbed and the blood flow to the inner ear is affected.

Vertebral artery and its role in headache and neck pain.

Neck pain, headache and vertigo

Let it be said that the Chiropractic adjustment, in the first instance, is definitely NOT the treatment of choice for vertigo. But there are some people with a negative Hallpike Dix test who get vertigo. The problem is not in the inner ear, nor do they have high blood pressure - they may have a subluxation in the upper neck.

This an area where your chiropractor will tread very carefully. If you are a high risk patient, smoker, obese, high cholesterol, on the pill, h/she may well decline to adjust your neck.

Having said that there are some patients whose vertigo is quickly fixed by a gentle cervical adjustment. Done with caution.

Stroke ... a chiropractic short story, don't miss it.

Frog in my Throat

An embarrassing puncture while riding his 'dream machine' to work brings Bernard Preston into contact with a patient suffering from neck pain and headache who once consulted Preston, but chose rather to decline Preston's 'too expensive' chiropractic treatment. INSIDE OUT. Instead, he opted for his doctor's anti-inflammatories. Enjoy! And think twice before taking NSAIDs for more than a week or two for neck pain and headache. If at all; rather treat the cause of the pain.

Can you believe it? Brought up in a chiropractic family, I don't believe I have ever, not even once, taken NSAIDs. Not that I haven't had pain. Even chiropractors can have their dramas.

Update: An excruciating attack of gout gave me cause to take two tablets a few months ago. I didn't get an ulcer, but I have since had to have a gastroscopy for severe heartburn. I wonder if it was related?

So, just how bad is your neck pain and headache? Are you over-reacting? Do you have a significant, and perhaps very serious problem? This next link will give you some measure of your neck pain and headache, and other possible causes.

Pinched nerve in the neck

Still today, holding the telephone receiver between the head and shoulder, whilst writing or typing, is not infrequently the cause of neck pain and headache. Associated with old injury, poor telphone and computer ergonomics is a not infrequently the cause of a pinched nerve in neck and even slipped disc in neck ... then the pain either radiates to the midback, down the arm more commonly, and very occasionally to the chest area. Tingling in the arms and hands is a common complaint at the Chiropractic Coalface.

Another dear patient suffering from chronic severe tingling in the arm, on x-ray we found an enormous cervical rib that was interfering with the brachial plexus.

A Cervical rib casefile cannot be cured, except through quite dangerous surgery via the armpit. Neck pain with bizarre radiation is the order of the day as it affects the artery and the nerves. Headaches would be an incidental finding.

A pinched nerve in the neck from holding the telephone between the head and shoulder is a common cause of headache.

Arm pain

Please note that arm pain case histories do not constitute scientific evidence but they do often give an inkling; often it's accompanied by neck pain and headache. ARM PAIN Case histories ...

Neck pain and headache, and arm pain are intimately connected.

Slipped disc in the neck

Slipped disc in neck is a fearfully painful condition; neck pain and headache with radiating arm pain is the order of the day.

Without a doubt, in my opinion anyway, a slipped disc in neck is one of the most challenging conditions at the chiropractic coalface.

Oddly, unlike other acute conditions, often less treatment rather than more is the secret to success. 

Radiating down the arm, the pain is severe, and nights are often murder. Neck pain AND headache may be a feature, but not necessarily so.

There are, of course, other causes of headache!

A wee lass was watching mum and dad dress for a party. When she saw her father donning his tux, she exclaimed, 'Pappa, you know you shouldn't wear that tux.'

'And why not, cherub?'

'Because it always gives you a headache the next day.'

What causes headache casefile ...




Google appears to frown on too many links, so phrases in bold, like those above and below, need to be put into the Site Search function in the navigation bar on your left if you want more information.

Have you enjoyed just one of my Bernard Preston books? Most of them are about chiropractic where you'll find interesting stories about the real people in our practises, many suffering from neck pain and headache.

Just take this one for example, about a small boy who took a tumble down the most dangerous place in Holland. The enemy within ... a short story.

Bernard Preston is a semiretired chiropractor who writes on a variety of subjects. He also pens a column in the local newspaper called Our Green Home; he has a fascination for solar energy and their organic garden. There is no alternative to healthy choice foods if we want to live long lives with little or no medication.

Just 99c will purchase you the first book in the trilogy, A Family Affair. If you don't love it, I undertake to return you 99c to you. I feel quite safe!

  • A Family Affair reviews ...

This one has nothing to do with neck pain and headache; but plenty about heartache.

Did you find this page useful? Then perhaps forward it to a suffering friend. Better still, Tweet or Face Book it.

Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

Do you have a problem that is not getting better?

Are you looking for a different slant on your pain?

Do you want to pose a question?

Interesting questions from visitors

CLS writes:

Greetings, Dr B.

You helped me quite some time back with a soothing and professional response which turned out to be exactly correct. I now consult a local chiropractor. You write a superb newsletter, too.

Your own unresolved problem. Pose a question

Knowing that up to 70 percent of the time the correct diagnosis is made with no examination, no special tests, no xrays, but just from the history, there is a fair chance I can add some insight to your unresolved problem. But at least 30% of the time, I may be quite wrong. Give plenty of detail if you want a sensible reply.

You visited this chiropractic help site no doubt because you have a problem that is not resolving and want to know more about what a DC does.

The quickest and most interesting way is to read one of my eBooks of anecdotes. Described by a reader as gems, both funny and healthful from the life and work of a chiropractor, you will love them. Priced right at $2.99, though Kindle fiddles the amount without telling me.