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Can a bulging disc in the neck cause headaches?

When a cervical bulging disc causes pain, the pain does not always start in the neck. Many people experience discomfort in the form of numbness and tingling sensations that travel down through the shoulders, arms and hands. Additionally, a bulging disc in the C1-C3 space, which is located very close to the trigeminal nerve, can cause pain that radiates upward toward the occipital and facial regions, resulting in migraine-like cervicogenic headaches. Alternatively, bulging disc pain can be a stressor that triggers migraine headaches.

What are the symptoms of cervicogenic headaches?

Headaches caused by a bulging disc in the neck typically start as steady (non-throbbing) pain at the back of the head. The pain may spread to the top of the skull, forehead or temple. Some people also experience pain or discomfort behind one eye. Neck pain may or may not occur as well. When it does, the neck pain and headaches may worsen and improve together.

Other common symptoms of cervicogenic headaches include:

  • Nausea
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Sensitivity to loud noise
  • A stiff neck

How are cervicogenic headaches treated?

Because headaches can occur for many reasons other than a bulging disc in the neck, it’s important to pinpoint the underlying cause before starting any treatment. Once a headache is confirmed to be cervicogenic (traced to a spinal issue), a physician may recommend any of several options to reduce the pain. These include:

  • Medications — such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxers and pain relievers
  • Physical therapy — including exercises that stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the neck
  • Chiropractic manipulation — which may include joint movement and therapeutic massage
  • Relaxation techniques — such as deep breathing, yoga and acupuncture

Alternatively, a physician may suggest a surgical procedure to relieve pressure on spinal nerves that are being compressed by a bulging disc in the neck. Surgery may be appropriate if cervicogenic headache pain is severe.

To learn about surgical treatment options for headaches caused by a bulging disc in the neck, contact USA Spine Care, the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery. Our team can provide a free MRI review* to help determine if you are a candidate for our minimally invasive outpatient surgery, which is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.

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