Sometimes you may experience a headache and back pain that occur at the same time. There are several conditions that can cause these symptoms.
Continue reading to learn more and how you can get relief.
The following conditions can possibly cause headache and back pain to occur together:
Sometimes injuries, such as those sustained in a car accident, fall, or while playing sports, can cause headache and back pain to occur together.
Poor posture can put strain on the muscles of your head, neck, and back. Maintaining poor posture over time can lead to the development of both headache and backache.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
PMS refers to a group of physical and emotional symptoms that occur between the time of ovulation and when a period starts.
Headache and back or abdominal pain are common PMS symptoms. Other symptoms to look out for can include:
- swollen or tender breasts
Headaches and back pain are common causes of discomfort during pregnancy. Other possible causes of discomfort include:
- frequent urination
Various infections can cause headache and back or body aches to occur together. One common example you may be familiar with is the flu.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Encephalitis is inflammation of brain tissue.
Meningitis can begin with general flu-like symptoms and quickly progress to more severe symptoms, such as:
- severe headache
- stiff neck
- high fever
Encephalitis can include:
- neck stiffness or pain
- mild flu-like symptoms
Migraine is a condition involving intense, throbbing headaches. The pain typically occurs only on one side of the head.
Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints, which can lead to pain and stiffness. It typically gets worse as you age.
If arthritis occurs in your neck or upper back, you may experience headaches in addition to back and neck pain.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder that can cause symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and cramps. It can also affect other areas of the body besides the GI tract, causing symptoms like headache and back pain.
Fibromyalgia is a group of symptoms that includes pain that can be felt all over the body, extreme fatigue, and sleeping problems. Other symptoms may include:
- tingling in the hands and feet
- problems with memory
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)
PKD is an inherited condition where noncancerous cysts develop on or in the kidneys. This can cause headache and pain in the back or side.
Other symptoms to look out for include high blood pressure and blood in the urine.
A brain aneurysm occurs when the walls of an artery in the brain become weakened and begin to bulge. If the aneurysm ruptures, it can be life-threatening. Symptoms can include:
- a sudden severe headache
- neck stiffness or pain
- double vision
If you think you or someone else is having an aneurysm, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
when to seek emergency care
In some cases, headache and back pain may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Always seek emergency care if you experience any of these symptoms:
- headache or back pain accompanied by a fever
- pain that happens following an injury or an accident
- symptoms of meningitis, including severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, and nausea or vomiting
- back pain that leads to a loss of bladder or bowel control
When diagnosing headache and back pain, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and take your medical history. They’ll want to know things like:
- how long you’ve been experiencing the pain
- the nature of the pain (how intense is it, when does it happen, and where does it occur?)
- if you’ve been experiencing any additional symptoms
Your doctor may then perform some additional tests to make a diagnosis. Some of these include:
- assessing your ability to perform simple tasks like standing, walking, and sitting
- a neurological exam, which can include testing things like reflexes
- blood tests, which can include things like a metabolic panel or complete blood count (CBC)
- imaging tests, which can include X-rays, CT scan, or MRI scan
- electromyography (EMG), which measures the electrical signals from your nerves and how your muscles respond
Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that’s ideal for your situation. Some examples of treatments for headache and back pain include the following:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Apply hot or cold compresses to your head, neck, or back.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
- Take prescription NSAIDs or muscle relaxants if OTC medications don’t work for pain.
- Take low doses of tricyclic antidepressants, which may help with back or headache pain.
- Get cortisone injections, which can help relieve back pain.
- Get a massage to loosen tight muscles.
If an underlying condition is causing your headache and back pain, your doctor will work to treat that as well. For example, if a bacterial infection is causing your condition, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
Schedule a doctor’s visit to discuss your symptoms if you have headache and pack pain that:
- is severe
- returns or occurs more often than usual
- doesn’t get better with rest and at-home treatment
- affects your normal, day-to-day activities
You can do the following things to prevent potential causes of headache with back pain:
- Try to maintain good posture when sitting or standing.
- Take measures to avoid head or back injury. Lift heavy objects properly. Use your seatbelt in the car. Wear proper protective equipment while playing sports.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Exercise frequently, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid smoking.
- Manage other conditions, like high blood pressure.
- Avoid infections by practicing good hand hygiene. Don’t share personal items, and avoid people who may be sick.
There are a variety of conditions that can cause headache and back pain to occur together. Examples include PMS, an infection, or an injury.
In some cases, headache and back pain can be relieved with rest and at-home care. However, if the pain persists, is severe, or affects your ability to function, see your doctor to talk about your symptoms.