Why Do I Experience Upper Back Pain and Headache at the Same Time?

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Dealing with back pain can prevent people from finishing daily tasks comfortably. But when you experience upper back pain with headaches, then that just means more trouble for you. These two pain conditions are among the top causes of disabilities worldwide. Lots of people who experience these symptoms at the same time often take separate treatments for each issue – when they should only be undergoing one treatment plan.

So why do some people experience headaches and upper back pain at the same time? Some of the common causes of headaches and upper back pain are headache disorders, spine problems, poor posture, pregnancy, fibromyalgia, and infections. If these symptoms appear together, the patient must see a doctor immediately so they can get treatments that target both kinds of pain.

What Causes Headaches and Upper Back Pain?

Upper and lower back pain are common pain conditions experienced by millions of people around the world. Every person experiences back pain differently – some people can feel it as a dull and persistent ache while others feel it as a sudden stabbing in their back. Similarly, patients may also experience headaches in various ways and because of different reasons.

Back pains and headaches are already troublesome to deal with on their own, but it’s also common for some people to experience them at the same time. A 2013 German study even found a connection between low back pain and chronic migraine headache and tension-type headache disorders.

Understanding the possible connection between headaches and upper back pain is important because it allows doctors to prescribe a treatment that targets the root of both symptoms – instead of only alleviating each symptom individually. Although more research is needed to explore the link between headache pain and upper back pain, here are some possible reasons why patients suffer from them simultaneously:

1) Headache Disorders

Some headache disorders are easily triggered when a patient has an already existing back problem. Here are some of the most common headache disorders that are associated with upper back pain:

  • Chronic tension headache – This chronic headache disorder feels like a dull, aching pressure or tightness across the forehead, on the sides of the temple, or at the back of the head. A tension-type headache is considered chronic if the headache pain lasts for a few hours and occurs for at least 15 days on average for at least 3 months.
  • Cervicogenic headache – This headache disorder develops on one side of the head, starting from the back and then radiating toward the front. It’s also usually accompanied by neck pain or a stiff neck. Certain movements may also worsen cervicogenic headaches.
  • Migraine headache – Migraine sufferers experience intense, throbbing headache pain on one side of the head. The pain is typically accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to lights and sounds, and vomiting.
  • Spinal headache – Spinal headaches result in excruciatingly painful headache pain. They typically occur when the doctor punctures the spinal canal in a diagnostic procedure known as a spinal tap. The cerebrospinal fluid may leak out after the doctor obtains a sample, decreasing the pressure exerted by the spinal fluid on the spinal cord and brain.

2) Spine Problems

In addition to causing back pain, some spinal conditions may also cause pain to radiate to the chest, shoulder, neck, and head – resulting in headaches for some patients. Here are some of the most common spine problems that simultaneously cause upper back pain and headache pain:

  • Spinal stenosis – This condition refers to the narrowing of the spaces in the spine, compressing the spinal cord and nearby nerve roots. It usually occurs around the neck and lower back.
  • Cervical radiculopathy – Also known as “pinched nerve,” this condition occurs when the nerve roots in the cervical spine are inflamed or compressed. It can result in neurological dysfunction, including radiating pain, muscle tightness, or numbness near the affected area.
  • Whiplash – This soft tissue injury occurs when the neck gets damaged after a sudden flexion or extension. It’s typically a result of auto accidents, but it can also be caused by sports accidents and other trauma. Aside from back pain and headache, whiplash patients may also feel mild to severe pain in their neck and shoulder blade area.

3) Poor Posture

Poor posture is one of the most common causes of back pain for millions of people every year. It can put unnecessary muscle tension and strain on the head, neck, and back – leading to muscle pain, chest pain, shoulder pain, back pain, neck pain, and even headache.

Sitting up or standing straight can help reduce headaches and back pain now and then. Taking over-the-counter headache relief medications also helps alleviate pain and muscle tightness, but it’s important to only take them as needed – otherwise, patients may worsen their headaches because of medication overuse.

If the upper back pain and headache persist after a few weeks of taking OTC medications, then it’s time to consult a pain management specialist. They might recommend physical therapy to correct posture, decompress tight muscle groups, and strengthen the muscles around the spine.

4) Pregnancy

Aside from the mild abdominal pain that pregnant patients feel during the first few weeks of their pregnancy, they may also experience upper back pain and headaches because of the changes that their bodies go through.

Headaches during pregnancy are usually caused by lots of different factors, including dehydration, stress, lack of sleep, eye strain, and low blood sugar levels. About 26% of pregnant women experience tension-type headaches during their pregnancy while others suffer from cluster headaches and migraine episodes.

On the other hand, upper back pain may also occur because the additional weight of both the mother and baby exerts pressure on the muscles. The growing belly of the patient changes their center of gravity, which also alters their posture and spinal alignment.

5) Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes tenderness and pain in different parts of the body. It can also be accompanied by sleep problems, fatigue, memory loss, and mood issues. Most patients typically experience symptoms after a significant psychological event, physical trauma, infection, or surgery. But other patients only notice that their symptoms gradually accumulate over time even without an obvious trigger.

Widespread pain throughout the body is one of the tell-tale signs of fibromyalgia. It can also co-exist with other health conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, headache disorders, painful bladder syndrome, anxiety, depression, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

6) Infections

Infections may also cause symptoms like muscle ache, headache, and back pain to occur simultaneously. One common case that lots of people might be familiar with is the flu – where they experience throbbing head as well as pain in the back and other parts of their body. Here are the two other infections that may cause headaches and back pain:

  • Meningitis – This condition refers to the inflammation of the protective membrane that surrounds the spinal cord and the brain. A viral or bacterial infection of the liquid around the brain or spinal cord results in symptoms like headache, fever, stiff neck, seizures, and back pain.
  • Encephalitis – This uncommon but serious health condition occurs when the brain swells. It can be life-threatening so patients must seek immediate treatment once they notice symptoms like headache, muscle ache, fatigue, stiff neck, fever, seizures, loss of sensations, and loss of consciousness.

Are Upper Back Pain, Neck Pain, and Headache Always Related?

The spine runs from the bottom of the brainstem down to the pelvic area, so injuries along it can negatively impact the surrounding areas – including the neck, arms, and head. When the upper back pain that the patient experiences is a symptom of a more serious underlying health condition, then they’re also likely to experience headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, and arm pain because of it.

However, consulting a doctor is still required to find out if the chronic pain you feel is all because of one health condition. If it is, then they may prescribe a treatment plan that targets the main cause of both upper back pain and headache instead of multiple treatments that manage them separately.

When to Consult a Doctor for Upper Back Pain Fatigue and Head Pressure

Both upper back pain and headaches can go away after a few days with the help of home remedies, lifestyle changes, and OTC medications. But if the pain persists and worsens, then it might be a sign of a more serious health condition. Make sure to visit a doctor immediately to discuss the symptoms of your back pain and headache if they:

  • Become severe
  • Occur more often than before
  • Don’t get better after resting and at-home treatments
  • Prevent you from performing daily activities comfortably

Who to See for Super Tight Upper Back Pain and Back of Head Pain

After consulting with the primary physician, they might refer you to a pain management specialist – a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating different pain conditions. Pain management doctors can determine the possible reason why headaches and upper back pain occur at the same time.

They also develop a treatment plan based on the patient’s lifestyle and health condition to help them relieve or manage pain. The goal of each treatment is to help patients return to their daily activities without the need for surgery or heavy medication reliance.

The Best Upper Back Pain and Headache Treatment at Gramercy Pain Center

Depending on your condition, our team at Gramercy Pain Center may recommend any of the following pain relief treatments:

  • Physical therapy – This treatment option is often recommended for chronic pain in the upper and lower back. The goal of physical therapy is to help the body heal and strengthen itself and prevent a recurrence of the pain condition using active and passive treatments.
  • Interventional pain management – This multidisciplinary approach uses different pain relief methods to reduce pain and improve the patient’s quality of life. Some of the interventional pain management treatments we offer at Gramercy Pain Center include facet joint injections, spinal cord stimulation, cryoablation, trigger point injections, and more.
  • Epidural steroid injections – This pain relief treatment involves directly delivering the pain medication into the epidural space, a tissue plane where spinal nerves are found. This corticosteroid injection provides immediate and long-lasting pain relief so patients can move around without worrying about headaches or back pain.
  • Non-surgical orthopedic options – This approach uses various minimally invasive treatment options to treat complex damages and injuries to the bones, joints, and muscles. Non-surgical orthopedic treatments like pain injections, nerve blocks, nerve stimulation, spinal stimulation, physical therapy, and more are usually the first option before surgery.

Personalized Treatment Plans for You at Gramercy Pain Center

There’s a wide range of causes that may result in headaches and back pain occurring at the same time. The important thing is to diagnose what causes these symptoms to appear together so you can get simultaneously treated for both.

At Gramercy Pain Center, we have a team of well-trained pain management specialists who can help determine the cause of your headache and upper back pain. Consult with us today to find out what kind of personalized treatment can restore your pain-free life in no time.

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