Are Your Back Pain and Headaches Connected?

Experiencing back pain or a headache by itself can be hard enough. However, dealing with both at the same time or close together can be excruciating and lower your quality of life. This is very true for patients whose headaches are migraines or other severe head pain. 

According to multiple studies, people who experience back pain are more likely to have headaches and the other way around. 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 BEST Health System 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 have a number of causes. The lower back is so prone to injury and pain because of the amount of weight and strain it is put under every day. 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 breakdown due to moving parts. 

This becomes even more of a factor over time as our bodies begin to change due to the natural aging process. These forces cause parts of our spine 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 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 causes of chronic headaches, particularly migraines, are still not fully understood. Often, they are the result of decreased blood flow to the brain. Causes 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) regions 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 and create an effective plan for pain relief. Try to be 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 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. 

Often, 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 spine condition as the root cause of your back pain and/or headaches and a full course of conservative treatment has not offered the relief you need for a good quality of life, spine surgery may become an option.

At BEST Health System, our multidisciplinary team can help patients overcome pain no matter where they are on the treatment journey. From pain management 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.