Herniated Disc and Headaches
A herniated disc and headaches are commonly connected although many patients, and their physicians, fail to make the association, leaving them with often debilitating symptoms that remain unaddressed. Simple painkillers and NSAIDs are unlikely to provide sufficient relief for headaches caused by herniated disc material compressing the cervical spinal nerves. This mechanical obstruction may necessitate surgery to fully relieve the neck pain, headaches, and radiculopathy that results from disc herniation in the cervical spine.
Diagnosing Disc Herniation and Headaches
Headaches are just one possible symptom of a herniated disc in the cervical spine, with arm pain, shoulder pain, altered sensation, numbness, weakness, and muscle wasting also possible ramifications of a herniated disc. Dizziness and nausea may also accompany a herniated disc and headaches. Chronic intermittent pain in the neck that is followed by acute severe neck pain may indicate a bulging disc that has suddenly herniated. A patient with signs of a herniated disc is likely to be scheduled for x-rays, CT scan, or an MRI to assess their condition and some patients may also undergo epidural steroid injections to identify the causative spinal nerves and discs.
Treating Herniated Discs and Headaches
Whereas bulging discs often heal themselves, given adequate rest and avoidance of inappropriate activities, herniated disc are more likely to require neck surgery such as a discectomy to relieve nerve compression. The majority of disc herniations do resolve themselves however, given sufficient rest, appropriate physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and possibly muscle relaxants. Patients self-medicating using over-the-counter remedies such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) may accumulate considerable liver damage before receiving a diagnosis of disc herniation and others may find that neck pain medications based on opioids lose their effectiveness over time.
Disc Herniation, Circulation, and Headaches
On some occasions the headaches suffered by a patient with a herniated disc may be connected to ischaemia rather than nerve compression. This is where the cervical spinal blood vessels are compressed leading to a reduction in circulation to the head and neck. The treatment for this condition is likely to be the same as for those suffering from pinched nerves in the neck as the desired effect is a decompression of the spine.
Inflammation, Stress, and Headaches
Patients experiencing chronic neck pain and headaches may find that relaxation techniques can be of benefit as their symptoms could be exacerbated by tension in the neck muscles. Lowering stress levels can also have an effect on inflammation in the body, thus reducing nerve compression and symptoms. Lower stress may also help patients reduce their need for neck pain medications and thereby lower their risk of side-effects. Some patients find that initially the symptoms of a herniated disc and headaches are connected to stress and then become and everyday occurrence necessitating more aggressive treatment. The symptoms of disc herniation and headaches are sometimes referred to as hangover headaches as they can feel very similar to the effects of a hangover but without the actual alcohol consumption. Many patients report symptoms such as an initial dull ache and tightness at the base of the neck which then spreads up and into the head and becomes recognizable as a herniated disc and headache.
Last Updated: 06/01/2012