The Truth About Arthritis Headaches

Why Does Osteoarthritis Cause Headaches?

Arthritis HeadachesMost people are aware that osteoarthritis can cause considerable pain and discomfort to your joints. However, one of the lesser-known symptoms of arthritis is that it can cause chronic headaches.

You would think osteoarthritis of the joints would not lead to headaches because the skull itself does not have any areas where arthritis can take its toll or cause discomfort. However, some of the body’s compensatory mechanisms and medication you take can lead to the headaches experienced with arthritis.

Tension Headaches

One of the most common reasons a person with arthritis suffers from headaches is due to the compensatory straining and increased tension of the various muscles of the body. Chronic pain can lead to a variety of physiological changes of the body, and muscle guarding is one of them.

An arthritic joint sends out pain signals, which causes you to tense up in a variety of other places in the body, particularly the neck and shoulders. Once the neck and shoulder muscles tighten up and become stiff due to the chronic headaches, it can lead to tension headaches.

Tension headaches are often described as a sensation of constant pressure. The pain is often on both sides of the head and is usually mild, but can also be severe.

Rebound Headaches

Another phenomenon known to cause headaches for arthritis sufferers is rebound headaches. Many people with arthritis often take medication to help cope with the pain of arthritis, and reasonably so.


However, some of these medications, if used near-daily, can lead to chronic headaches. These medications include acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin), and Aspirin. When the pain medication wears off, you may experience a withdrawal reaction, prompting you to take more medication, which only leads to another headache and the desire to take more medication.

And so the cycle continues until you start to suffer from chronic daily headaches with more severe headache pain and more frequent headaches.

Rebound headaches occur when the overuse of pain medication interferes with the brain centers that regulate the flow of pain messages to the nerves, worsening headache pain.

The symptoms that indicate a rebound headache are: they occur every day (especially once you wake up), they are persistent throughout the day, and they improve with the headache-causing medication but get worse without them.

If you are taking one of these over-the-counter medications on a daily basis and suspect you may have rebound headaches, a frank conversation with your primary care physician may be necessary. A general rule of thumb is that if you are taking medication for your headache for more than half of the days of the month, the medication may actually be perpetuating, or even causing, the problem.

Stress Headaches

The last and simplest reason osteoarthritis can lead to headaches is due to the stress associated with the condition.

The physical limitations and pain that arthritis causes can be very stressful. Many activities and minor problems that healthy people can do without skipping a beat can really bog down arthritis sufferers.

All of the added stress of the chronic condition can manifest as chronic headaches. Stress headaches, similar to tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders, often lead to tension headaches.

Next page: exploring alternative methods of treatment to relieve your osteoarthritis headache

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