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Are Your Back Pain and Headaches Connected?


Experiencing back pain or a headache by itself can be difficult enough. However, dealing with both at the same time or in conjunction can be excruciating and have a dampening effect on your quality of life. This is particularly true for patients whose headaches take the form of migraines or other severe head pain. 

According to multiple studies, there is evidence that people who experience back pain are more likely to have headaches, and vice versa. Although researchers do not fully understand the connection, there are several possibilities. By understanding the causes of both headaches and back pain, you can help yourself as you seek lasting and effective pain relief. 

The team at USA Spine Care is here to help. As you look over the following information, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our dedicated team members with any questions. 

What causes back pain?

Back pain can be caused by a number of specific contributors. The lower back is so prone to injury and the development of painful conditions due to the amount of weight and strain it is put under on a daily basis. However, the back also needs to be able to bend and flex to allow for basic movement, making it even more vulnerable to injury and degeneration due to moving parts. 

This vulnerability becomes even more pronounced over time as our bodies begin to degenerate due to the natural aging process. These forces cause our spinal anatomy to dry out and lose elasticity, including the discs and joints that enable smooth motion. 

Specific conditions that result in back pain include: 

  • Herniated discs
  • Bulging discs
  • Degenerative disc disease 
  • Spinal arthritis
  • Bone spurs

Often these conditions are not painful by themselves, but can cause local and radiating pain as a result of displaced spinal anatomy putting pressure on the spinal cord or a nerve root. 

What causes headaches?

The cause of chronic headaches, particularly migraines, are still not fully understood by doctors or medical researchers. Often, they are the result of a vascular constriction that causes decreased blood flow to the brain. Underlying contributors can include stress, poor posture, eye strain, dehydration, head injury, as well as nerve compression and muscle strains in the neck. 

For some patients, it is possible to have arthritis in the spine or disc problems in both the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) region of the spine that are contributing to both back pain and headaches, including migraines. 

Finding and treating the back pain and headache connection

The best way to find out if there is a connection between your back pain and headaches is to work with a doctor to diagnose both of your problems and create an effective plan for pain relief. It’s important to be patient and proactive during this phase of treatment, as it can take some trial and error to find a link if there is one.

One of the best ways you can help as a patient is to keep a symptom and activity journal in advance of all appointments. This can help shed light on possible causes and triggers of both headaches and back pain to help you and your treatment team pinpoint the causes and find the most effective methods of pain relief. 

Typically, patients will begin with a course of conservative therapies that can help both forms of pain. This includes:

  • Rest
  • Over-the-counter medication
  • Using an ice pack in alternation with a heating pad
  • Improving posture and workplace ergonomics
  • Focusing on overall health, including proper nutrition, hydration and regular exercise

When to consider spine surgery for back pain and headaches

If you are diagnosed with a degenerative spine condition as the underlying cause of your back pain and/or headaches and a full course of conservative therapies have not offered the relief you need for a good quality of life, spine surgery may become an option.

At USA Spine Care, our multidisciplinary team can help patients overcome pain no matter where they are on the treatment journey. From physical therapy to minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery, we can help you create an individualized treatment plan that gets you back to the people and activities you love. 

Contact us today to learn more. 

Back Pain Quick Answers

How do I know if my back pain is serious?

Back pain of any severity that does not improve in a short period of time should always be diagnosed and treated by a qualified medical professional. In rare cases, spine conditions can cause a life-threatening condition called cauda equina syndrome. If you experience numbness and an inability to move your lower extremities, and/or bowel or bladder incontinence seek immediate medical attention. 

What can I do to relieve my back pain?

Back pain can often be treated by basic conservative options, including rest, hot and cold compression therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers and physical therapy. Surgery becomes a serious consideration if weeks or months of conservative treatment has not brought the relief necessary for a good quality of life. 

When should I worry about my back pain?

You should take any case of persistent back pain seriously, as age-related degeneration can cause back pain to get worse over time. Focus on a spine healthy lifestyle, including diet, exercise and proper posture, to relieve pressure on your spine and slow down degeneration as much as possible. 

What is causing my back pain?

Back pain can have a number of causes, including muscle strain, spinal arthritis, bulging and herniated discs and bone spurs. It’s important to never self-diagnose your back pain. Taking a proactive approach to getting diagnosis and treatment from a qualified medical professional gives you the best chance of finding the course of treatment that is right for you.

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