Q&A: Can arthritis give me headaches?


“I have arthritis in my neck through wear and tear. Can this give me headache, as I'm suffering from them all of the time?”

- Yvonne


Dr Sarah Jarvis says:Osteoarthritis – the most common cause of arthritis – most commonly affects your neck as well as your lower spine, hands, knees and hips. Arthritis of the neck – otherwise known as cervical spondylosis – is a common cause of neck pain, which tends to come and go. It’s caused by a combination of wear and tear on the small bones in the neck (the vertebrae) through which the nerves of the spinal cord travel, and the squashy intervertebral discs which separate them.

This pain can spread to your shoulders and, if the nerves of the spinal cord are pressed on, it can cause unpleasant shooting pains which go down your arms into your hands. However, the pain can also travel to the back of your neck and sometimes up over the back of your head as far as your forehead. Of course, there are lots of causes of headaches, and your doctor will be able to advise whether this is the most likely cause, on the basis of your symptoms and he/she has examined you.

There is another way in which arthritis, including arthritis of the neck, can cause headaches. A major cause of headaches in the UK, which affects several million people, is medication-induced headache. If you take painkillers very regularly (for at least three months, twice or more a week for combination painkillers or three times a week for simple painkillers), a headache can actually be triggered as the levels of painkiller in your body drop. This results in another headache, for which you take more painkillers; as the level drops again, you get another one and so on. If you have been taking painkillers this often, speak to your doctor about whether this might be the cause.”

̶ Dr Sarah Jarvis


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