The short answer to this questions is YES! But I want to make sure you understand the why behind this connection.
If you’re a migraine or headache sufferer, you know that there is a huge gap in the healthcare system about how we understand the cause and treat the symptoms of headache pain. As a physical therapist, it is very confusing as to how this has been commonly missed for so long. Almost all headaches and migraines are an upper neck issue and the brain is confusing the pain signals. This is why you feel pain in your head, eye or face, but not always in the neck.
Now, of course there are exceptions, but hopefully after reading some more information below, you will see how we at Novera Headache Center have come to this conclusion and continue to see great results.
We have to first understand pain. Pain is made by the brain. The brain perceives threat signals from a potential “injured or insulted” tissue and then sounds an alarm bell. Quite often, the brain can even exaggerate pain, especially chronic pain, so it feels like a much bigger problem than whatever actually caused the alarm in the first place. This is called “sensitization.” In essence, our brain becomes overprotective and is put on high alert. However, some people will say then, “well if it’s in my head, I should be able to think the pain away.” Not exactly. Our brains are different from our minds, and we can’t just tell our brains and these specific nerve pathways to stop. There are mind-body approaches that can help, but we still need to address what sounded the alarm bell in the first place.
This brings us back to the neck and it’s pain pathway to the brain. We have 7 neck or cervical vertebrae and 8 spinal nerve roots that exit between these vertebrae. The top 3 spinal nerves (C1, C2, C3) come together in the trigeminal cervical nucleus which is located in the brainstem. From there, the signal continues into the trigeminal nerve which feeds the sensation of the face. This is why the brain perceives the pain as in the head, when in reality it began in the upper neck.
I found several different schematics below that all show the connection of the upper neck (C1-3) into the trigeminal nucleus and eventually the trigeminal nerve which gives our head and face sensation.
If you’re suffering from neck and/or head pain, please reach out to us at Novera Headache Center so we can get you back to thriving in your life without pain!
Here are some other helpful resources: