Pain Management Can Be a Pain in the Neck

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

by Karen Del Vecchio |

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I must have slept funny last week because I woke up one day with stiff and sore muscles in my neck that turned into quite a headache.

I sometimes get referred pain in my neck because of a sports injury I sustained to my right shoulder as a teenager, but this soreness was on the left side. Apparently, it was something new.

I’ve noticed over the years that my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is sometimes worse when my seasonal allergies flare up, that the localized inflammation caused by allergies can become systemic. My allergies have been terrible the past few weeks and I suspect that accounts for some of my recent issues.

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The pain happened only a few days after my most recent massage and I wasn’t scheduled to go back soon. In the interim, I reached for my usual go-tos: my heating pad, some Tylenol, and a hand-held neck and shoulder massager. I’ve found that lying on my heating pad first and then doing some gentle work with the massager helps to calm down all the muscles.

I’m used to shoulder pain turning into neck pain, but not really neck pain leading to a headache. After I did a little digging, I suspected that I had what’s known as a cervicogenic headache, where a muscle, joint, or nerve causes pain to radiate up the back of the head and above the eye. For about two days it felt like I had a stabbing sensation above my eye.

The pain dissipated a little after a few days of pain meds, heat, and massage, but I know that it won’t really go away until my next massage. While most medical professionals recommend ice for acute injuries, I’ve found that ice tends to cause my muscles to get tighter, making the pain worse.

Each person has to figure out what kind of pain management works best for them. As someone who naturally seeks out patterns, I’ve learned that this system works best for me. I’m grateful to have come to an understanding about how best to manage my pain and flare-ups in between my regular massage treatments.


Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.


Mary Spain avatar

Mary Spain

I find it particularly interesting with EDS that the pain changes depending on what hour of the day it is. It is sometimes hard to stop to think which pain relief method (if any) I can use to feel better. It's particularly frustrating that when I go to bed feeling fairly well, that one by one, different areas of my body will start to hurt and it gets increasingly difficult to stop the pain so I can actually go to sleep. Since muscle and joint inflammation is such a tough part of this, I have found that the stick-on heat patches like the Thermacare heat patches work really well. I can actually stick one on and leave it on until I take a bath. I have found that the brand name Thermacare patches seem to have a better heat response and the larger the size of the patch, the higher the heat is. I can usually go to sleep after a little while after putting the patches on.

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

Karen Del Vecchio

This is great to know, Mary! Thank you for sharing what has worked for you!

Susie Knorr avatar

Susie Knorr

I finally made some connections by reading your article. I have hEDS and am 65. My allergies just got worse and my pain and stiffness increased. I mentioned the problems to my husband and now I will pay more attention to this occurance. I also reach for the heating pad over ice everytime due to muscle contracture. I have had disc replacement and fusion of cervical vertibrae 3-7. While C1 and C2 allow right to left head movement, it is still tight without doing my stretching in each direction. One fix I get is a steroid epidural at the C7/T1 joint so that it washes up the cervical discs. This helps decrease my pain that was giving me headaches. I told my husband I thought the very specific head area pain was due to nerve pain and now you discuss cervicogenic headaches and my thought was bingo! Thank you for your well written and substantive article.

On a second note, I also have two horses, one is mine and after my extensive neck surgery my energy was and still is lower. On my first walk to the barn to see him, my little Gus looked at me and then looked closer and his energy decreased and from that moment on our bond was sealed and he still takes special care of me. I do believe in miracles.

Thank you again for your article. Susie

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

Karen Del Vecchio

Thank you, Susie, for your kind words! Sometimes daily management of E-DS can be a chore, but I always find it easier knowing that we're all in it together. Horses truly are incredibly special. I write about my horses in various columns on occasion, and you can certainly find them if that's of interest to you. This one, about my horse Artica, however, is probably one of my favorites about how my horse helped me to accept my E-DS diagnosis. Plesae give Gus a carrot for me!

William Kakish avatar

William Kakish

I'm 69. I've had headaches for year and I have a cervical fusion at C3-C4, result of a hyperextension injury. I have aEDS. But you are spot on. Chronic shoulder and neck pain. Heat helps. Cold makes it worse. Massage is a critical part of my pain management. The headaches you describe, the stabbing pain above the eye, are characteristic of mine. And pain is always worse when my allergies flare. I have days where the pain is minimal and days when I don't want to move. At first they blamed it on arthritis due to my history of falls related to dislocations. Then I started getting genetic testing that so far have confirmed celiac disease as well as EDS and osteogenesis imperfecta. I have to go for more. But hearing your story helps me understand that I am not crazy, which I am sure many of the doctors I saw throughout my life did. It took 69 years before an integrative physician believed me and after a year and a half of tests got to the genetic testing. I am so grateful to her and to this community.


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