Headaches Have a Neck Component

Ross Hauser, MDRoss Hauser, MD

Ask a patient who has chronic headaches-whether from migraines, tension, muscular, to cluster headaches-they will inevitably say that either before, during, or after the headache they experienced neck pain. What most people do not realize is that the ligaments in the neck refer pain to the head. This is the reason why most headaches have a neck component.

Prolotherapy eliminates the neck trigger points for the headaches by stimulating the ligaments to heal. Many people ask whether allergies and hormone problems can also cause headaches. These most definitely can play a role, but once the neck component is eliminated, it is much more difficult for a person to get a headache even if they have allergies or hormonal problems. If the headaches do recur they are less frequent and of less severity. To totally eliminate the headaches in this situation, food allergy testing and hormone analysis would be performed. Often eliminating certain foods, taking some nutritional supplements such as stinging nettles, omega-3 fatty acids, and natural hormone replacements (or herbals to accomplish similar responses), will take care of the rest of the headache problem.

Neck Pain

Most people report that their headaches start at the base of the neck, move up the neck, behind the eyes, into the temples, and into the head. Migraine sufferers know that pain on one side in the base of the neck may be the beginning of a migraine headache. This is an important clue that the etiology of the headache is in the neck, producing referred pain. George S. Hackett, M.D., the father of modern-day Prolotherapy, described the referral patterns of the ligaments of the neck in detail. These patterns are important to know because the most common cause for pain radiating from the neck to the arm is not due to a pinched nerve in the neck, but actually a weak ligament in the neck. The most common reason for a pins-and-needles sensation or numbness in the arm is not a pinched nerve, but ligament laxity in the neck.

To accurately diagnose the cause of neck or head pain, a listening ear and a strong thumb are generally all that is needed. Diagnostic tests, such as x-rays, CAT and MRI scans cannot diagnose the source of pain. As a matter of fact, they often lead the patient and physician astray.

Prolotherapy as a Treatment for Head and Neck Pain

The areas to be treated with Prolotherapy are determined by pressing against the back of the head and neck. Again, the accuracy in diagnosing the actual pain-producing area is excellent, because the physician recreates the patient’s pain by palpating the neck and posterior head carefully until a positive jump sign is elicited. This gives the patient and the physician confidence that the pain-producing structure is between the physician’s thumb and the underlying bone. The structures that are typically involved are the cervical vertebral ligaments. These tender areas are treated with Prolotherapy injections. Typical areas treated during Prolotherapy sessions for chronic headaches and neck pain are the base of the skull, cervical vertebral ligaments, posterior-lateral clavicle, where the trapezius muscle attaches, as well as the attachments of the levator scapulae muscles. Because there is an anesthetic in the solution, generally the neck or headache pain is immediately relieved. This again, confirms the diagnosis both for the patient and the physician.

Dr. Hackett reported good to excellent results in 90 percent of 82 consecutive patients with neck and/or head pain whom he treated with Prolotherapy. Dr. D. Kayfetz and associates treated 206 patients who had headaches caused from trauma. They found that Prolotherapy was effective in completely relieving the headaches in 79 percent of patients. John Merriman, M.D., of Tulsa, Oklahoma, reported at the 1995 Hackett Foundation Prolotherapy Conference, that in treating the necks of 225 patients with Prolotherapy, 80 percent had good to excellent results. These studies did not differentiate between the different types of headaches. Prolotherapy is effective against migraine, cluster, and muscle-contraction headaches if ligament laxity and/or autonomic nervous system dysfunction are present.

There are several possible reasons why the cure rate for headaches is not even higher than it is. Tension or muscle-contraction headache affects at least 80 percent of the world’s populatation. It is a problem principally of adult life, with women affected three times as often as men. Aching or squeezing discomfort is typically bilateral (both sides) to the occiput (base of the skull) or the frontotemporal muscle mass (temple area). There is often an aching in the base of the neck. This typically occurs because of the head position we all subject ourselves to every day and, of course, the stress we are all under.

Prolotherapy controls the pain of muscle-contraction headache and neck pain. Prolotherapy, however, will not overcome poor posture or poor dietary and lifestyle habits. It is not a “Band-Aid” for the stressed-out lifestyle or personality. Learn to have fun again. Take some walks, read a book, pray, and read your Bible. Play athletics for fun and enjoy it. Part of the cure for stress-related headaches may begin by getting adequate rest, a good diet, appropriate stress-relieving modalities, and the proper treatments, which may include Prolotherapy.