The Strange Link Between Back Pain and Headaches


    By Kennedy Shelley

    You are twice as likely to get chronic headaches if you have back pain.

    And vice versa.

    Why would these two different pains affect one another?

    An article appeared in The Journal of Headache and Pain on July 15 of 2019.

    The study was done by the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.

    They examined five medical databases and found a remarkable relationship between backaches and migraines as well as tension headaches.

    This goes along with over 14 studies showing this persistent link.

    If these two different chronic pains are linked, will this lead to different treatment strategies than what we are currently using?

    Just to put this problem in perspective, up to 4% of the world suffers from debilitating headaches for more than 15 days of the month.

    This is more than just take an aspirin, this is disabling pain.

    And chronic pain is a serious health problem.  Not just because of the suffering it causes, but it affects everyone with losses in productivity.

    It is estimated that chronic pain costs the US $635 Billion a year.  That is more than the combined costs of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

    So, solving this problem and finding the link between back pain and headaches has serious economic implications.

    Eighty percent of adults will experience excruciating lower back pain at least once in their lives.  Of these, 20% will go on to have this pain for the rest of their lives.

    And this seems to lead to chronic headaches according to a 2013 German study which showed the first link between low back pain and migraines and chronic tension headaches.

    This study shows the association is even more pronounced than originally thought.

    Looking at a sample size of 404,206 people, they found those who suffer from headaches the majority of days for more than three months and suffered from low back pain.

    They found that if you had one, more than likely you had the other.

    The recommendation of the study was to quit looking at low back pain and chronic headaches as separate issues.

    They believe the treatment for back and headache pain ought to be the same.

    This study did not state why the two pains are linked, but it showed a very strong relationship between the two.

    It does suggest that we not see separate specialists for these two conditions.

    By taking a more holistic approach there is a much better chance of getting help and relief from the pain.

    There are two theories on why these two pains are linked.

    There may be a relationship between how people react to pain.

    Our reaction to a migraine, may cause tightness in the lower back, which creates a vicious circle.

    Using physical therapy to reduce the tension in the lower back, might actually resolve the headache issue.

    If this link is as strong as the evidence suggests, solving one problem might solve the other.

    But if the problems are considered separate issues, then solving your back problem, but continuing treatment for your headaches may continue to make the situation worse.

    While scientists continue to fully understand the relationship and mechanism that causes this link, maybe it is time to start changing our thinking about these two problems as separate and get one treatment plan for your entire body and improve your quality of life.