If you’ve ever suffered from the debilitating effects of headaches accompanied by neck and shoulder pain, you know firsthand just how important it is to identify the cause of the problem and do everything you can to remedy or prevent it.
There are a multitude of causes contributing to headaches and neck pain ranging from overuse or injury of the delicate soft tissue of the neck region to more generalized factors such as occupational, physical, or emotional stress. A long list of other causes can lead to this widespread condition, as well. Recent research suggests that frequently, the causative factors of some headaches are multilayered and not simply the result of one specific reason.
Pain is often a warning sign from your body and serves the purpose of getting your brain’s attention. For this reason, acute and chronic pain resulting from headaches and neck pain should be taken seriously. It is always a good idea to consult your primary health care provider and make a concentrated effort to determine the cause of your specific condition. It is often necessary to seek help from a specialist who deals specifically with the type of headache that you are experiencing.
Shoulder problems can cause neck pain and headaches because the shoulder and neck share the same muscles. What hold the shoulder in position is not joint compression, but actually ligaments and muscle tone – specifically the trapezius, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, and rhomboid muscles. Two of these muscles, the levator scapulae and the trapezius, also attach to the neck bones (cervical spine) and/or base of the skull. Because the shoulder joint is held in position by muscle tone rather than by joint compression, and some of these muscles attach to the neck and head, unnatural shoulder mechanics – a functional problem (in which muscles or joints do not move optimally, creating stress to the tissues) – can cause neck pain and headaches.
The upper portion of the trapezius muscle helps elevate the shoulder blade (scapula) both at rest and in overhead positions. Often, the upper trapezius will become weak or elongated, allowing the shoulder blade to sink too far down on the trunk. This leaves the levator scapulae vulnerable, because it then must do the work of two muscles. The levator scapulae attaches from the scapula to the upper four vertebrae of the neck. When repeatedly tugged on, this muscle contributes to neck extension, rotation, and/or compression – especially when the deep neck-stabilizing muscles (located in the front of the neck) are weaker than the adverse forces acting on the neck. This can occur asymmetrically, creating compression, rotation, or extension on one side of the neck more than on the other. When the neck is unable to stabilize against these forces, neck pain or headaches result.
With all that said, it’s not a certainty that your headaches are the result of neck pain or another cause until a medical professional does some diagnostics or testing. To find relief from your headaches and shoulder pain, call the orthopedic surgeons at Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland at (410) 644-1880, or request an appointment online.