Can a pinched nerve in the spine cause a migraine?

The spinal column is a common source of pinched nerves due to the density of nervous tissue in this area combined with its intricate construction. In particular, the cervical (upper) and lumbar (lower) regions of the spine are prone to pinched nerves because of the amount of weight they support combined with their relative flexibility. If conditions like bone spurs or herniated discs narrow the spinal column and cause a pinched nerve, it can lead to symptoms including shooting pains, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness.

If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal nerve compression and are experiencing severe, migraine-like headaches, it is natural to wonder if these two issues are related. While only a qualified physician can diagnose the source of reoccurring headaches, they are a potential symptom of a pinched nerve in the spine, especially the cervical region.

Pinched nerves and cervicogenic headaches

The cervical spine runs from the base of the skull to the top of the ribcage, allowing for basic head movement and protecting the very top of the spinal cord. Nerve roots that branch off here go to the head, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, sending sensory and motor information between the brain and these areas.

When a pinched nerve occurs in the cervical spine, it can interfere with the proper transmission of these signals, causing a range of issues. One of these is head pain that is diagnosed as a cervicogenic headache. However, it can be difficult for physicians to tell whether a headache is a migraine or related to cervical nerve compression. Similar to standard migraines, cervicogenic headaches usually occur on one side of the head or another and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity.

To positively diagnose headaches as cervicogenic, doctors can use hands-on movement tests, and tests such as diagnostic nerve block injections. By injecting a numbing agent in the cervical nerve root believed to be causing headaches, a doctor can be certain that compression of that nerve is the source if headaches and other symptoms are relieved.

Finding relief from pinched nerve pain

Relief from headaches and other pinched nerve symptoms can often be accomplished by developing a treatment plan designed to relieve pain while taking steps that can potentially take some of the pressure off of the pinched nerve. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy exercises, massage, periods of rest, therapeutic spinal injections and hot/cold therapy along with over-the-counter pain medication such as aspirin or acetaminophen.

Due to the risks and difficulties associated with neck surgery, especially traditional open spine procedures, conservative treatments are usually explored first. But for some, symptoms such as headaches can become debilitating and no longer respond to conservative treatments, which can start to make spine surgery look like a more serious option. To learn more about treatment for a pinched nerve in the spine, contact Laser Spine Institute. We are dedicated to delivering exceptional patient care, including providing patients with minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery at our state-of-the-art facilities across the United States.

Find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures by asking for your free MRI review.*

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