Sinus infections and neck pain are both highly prevalent conditions, with 31 million Americans suffering from sinusitis annually. Additionally, research indicates that up to 80% of people experience neck pain at some point. When concurrent, targeted treatment is often the way to go.
At Kaly, we understand how aggravating sinus infection neck pain can be. We’ve helped many patients diagnose the root causes and craft customized treatment plans. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of this condition so you can take control of your health.
What Causes Neck Pain During a Sinus Infection?
Your sinuses are intricately connected to surrounding muscles, nerves, and lymph nodes that span from your forehead down to your shoulders. When inflammation from a sinus infection spreads, it can put pressure on or irritate these interconnected tissues, resulting in referred pain in your neck.
Specifically, neck pain often stems from inflamed nerves that are shared by your sinuses and neck area. For example, the trigeminal nerve branches out to relay sensory information from your face to your brain stem. When a sinus infection triggers your trigeminal nerve, pain signals can get mixed up and you feel tenderness or ache in your neck even though that’s not the primary source.
In addition, when your sinuses are congested and inflamed, this constant pressure and irritation can cause the muscles in your neck and shoulders to tense up. As these muscle groups strain and spasm to compensate, you start to experience stiffness, limited range of motion, and pain.
Your overburdened lymph nodes can also contribute to neck discomfort when you have a sinus infection. Lymph nodes near your jaw, ears, and down your neck become swollen as they work in overdrive to drain your infected sinuses. This swelling puts outward pressure on nearby structures including muscles and nerves, leading to pain and tenderness.
Is Neck Pain a Common Symptom of a Sinus Infection?
Yes, for those suffering from acute or chronic sinusitis, neck pain is a very common accompanying complaint. Multiple studies validate this connection.
One study titled “Self-reported sinus headaches are associated with neck pain and cervical musculoskeletal dysfunction: a preliminary observational case control study” found that neck pain is common in patients with sinus headaches. The study suggests that neck pain and cervical musculoskeletal dysfunction are prevalent among persons with self-reported sinus headaches (SRSH) and may be a comorbid feature or contributing factor to headaches attributed to rhinosinusitis.
Additionally, a case study titled “Trigeminal neuralgia associated with sinusitis” presents a case of an elderly woman who experienced severe neuralgic pain in the distribution of the trigeminal nerve following a mild upper respiratory tract infection. MRI imaging revealed severe sinusitis with no pathology in the brain.
A recent study examined the prevalence of neck pain in patients with self-reported sinus headaches. The study included 31 participants who suffered from frequent sinus headaches, lasting approximately 89.7 months on average.
- The majority of participants were female (77.4%) with an average age of 43.7 years.
- Results showed that 83.9% of these sinus headache sufferers also experienced concurrent neck pain.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that neck pain and cervical dysfunction are very common secondary conditions in people with chronic sinus headaches.
We often see neck pain crop up with sinus infections for a few vital reasons. First, your sinuses have multiple neural connections to your neck, allowing pain signals to radiate. Second, draining sinus fluids can irritate and swell lymph nodes concentrated around your neck. And third, the constant pressure from congested sinuses overworks nearby neck muscles.
With multiple physiological mechanisms allowing sinus inflammation to impact neck tissues, it makes sense that a majority of sinusitis patients experience secondary neck pain. The good news is that treating the root infection helps resolve both issues.
What’s the Connection Between Sinus Pain and Neck Pain?
When evaluating the relationship between sinus pain and neck pain, the connecting threads are nerves, referred pain, and muscle tension.
Shared Nerve Pathways
- The trigeminal, vagus, and cervical sensory nerve networks are shared by the sinuses and neck area.
- Inflamed facial nerves can send pain signals down into the neck via these interconnected paths.
- For example, the vagus nerve links the cervical sympathetic ganglia and upper cervical nerves to the cranial nerves from the sinuses.
- This phenomenon causes pain to be felt distantly from the actual source.
- A sinus infection can activate facial trigeminal nerves but the pain radiates to the neck due to crossed wiring.
- A study published in the Journal of Oral Medicine and Pain found sinus pain was misdiagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia because of overlapping pain patterns.
- Sinus pressure causes neck and shoulder muscles to tense up against the strain.
- Fatigued, tense muscles become tender and painful.
- A study found 50% of respiratory infection patients experience myalgia and muscle tension, causing secondary neck pain.
Do Sinus Infections Cause Head and Neck Pain?
It is very common for sinus infections to cause pain that radiates from your facial area into your head and neck regions. In fact, research indicates that up to 90% of sinusitis patients experience head pain, and 70% have neck pain as well.
When your sinuses are inflamed and congested, this places outward pressure on nerves that supply sensation to your face, head, and neck. In particular, the trigeminal nerve branches out from your sinus areas towards your forehead, scalp, and jaw. Meanwhile, the vagus nerve runs down from your ears into your neck. Irritation of these nerves by a severe sinus infection often manifests as headache, facial pain, and neck achiness.
Referred pain also plays a role in head and neck discomfort when you have a sinus infection. Shared nerve pathways mean inflammation in your sinuses can trigger cascading pain that your brain misinterprets as originating from your head and neck areas.
Can a Sinus Infection Cause Neck and Shoulder Pain?
It’s certainly possible for a sinus infection to cause pain that radiates all the way into your neck and shoulders. Here’s why this occurs:
First, your sinus areas share nerves, lymph drainage pathways, and blood vessels that connect to your neck and shoulders. When infected, inflammation can travel along these routes into surrounding areas.
Also, referred pain results in your brain misinterpreting its origin, localizing sinusitis-related pain to the neck and shoulders.
Swollen lymph nodes around your neck and shoulders may also press on nearby nerves, causing localized pain. Draining sinus fluid irritates these lymph nodes.
Lastly, constant sinus pressure can make muscles around your neck and shoulders tense up and spasm. This causes secondary achiness in these areas.
So in summary, a severe sinus infection definitely can spread inflammation and cause pain that you perceive in your neck and shoulders. Treating the infection helps reduce the pain at its source.
How to Differentiate Between Sinus Infection and Neck Pain?
Sometimes it can be tricky to determine whether you are experiencing primary neck pain or secondary pain caused by a sinus infection. Here are a few ways to differentiate the two:
- Look for other sinusitis symptoms like congestion, runny nose, headache, and fever. If present, sinusitis is likely.
- Neck pain that stems from a sinus issue will typically start after sinus symptoms appear. Primary neck pain often comes on first.
- Check locations of pain. Sinus-related neck pain often centers higher up near the head and jaw. Primary neck pain could be lower.
- Assess triggers. Sinus infection neck pain worsens with position changes, bending forward, and straining. Primary neck pain is associated with trauma and poor posture.
- Evaluate duration and constancy. Sinus neck pain comes and goes. Primary neck pain is often more constant.
- Over-the-counter allergy meds relieve sinus but not direct neck pain. The opposite for OTC pain meds.
What is the Treatment for Sinus Infection-Related Neck Pain?
An article from Everyday Health suggests several natural ways to relieve sinus pressure and improve sinus drainage, which can help manage pain and swelling. These methods include drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier, taking plenty of steamy showers, and drinking a cup of hot tea or soup.
To find relief from the frustrating one-two punch of a sinus infection and neck pain, Kaly recommends focusing on these other proven treatment strategies like:
- Taking antibiotic medications or steroids prescribed by your doctor to clear the sinus infection and reduce inflammation. This tackles the root issue.
- Using OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease neck pain and discomfort.
- Drinking lots of fluids and using humidifiers to thin out mucus and drain the sinuses.
- Getting ample rest to allow your body to direct energy towards healing.
- Trying gentle neck stretches and massages to address muscular components of pain.
- Considering alternative therapies like acupuncture that may provide pain relief.
- Seeing an ENT specialist or doctor if severe pain persists so they can rule out complications.
How Long Does Neck Pain Last with a Sinus Infection?
The duration of sinus infection-related neck pain can vary substantially based on severity, cause, and treatment efficacy.
- For mild to moderate sinus infections, neck pain may resolve within 1-2 weeks as the infection clears.
- Severe or chronic sinusitis may cause neck pain lasting 2-3 weeks or more with flare-ups.
- Postural neck pain from sinus pressure can resolve quickly once the infection drains.
- Referred nerve pain may come and go with the sinus infection. An article from JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery states that neuralgic pains frequently occur during the course of chronic sinusitis and are in the nature of referred pains, being felt at points distant from the pathologic site.
- Pain from swollen lymph nodes could last a few weeks after infection passes.
Can a Severe Sinus Infection Lead to Neck Pain?
Absolutely – the severity of your sinus infection has a direct impact on the likelihood and intensity of neck pain. Here’s why worse sinusitis causes worse neck discomfort:
- With severe sinusitis, inflammation and congestion are at their peak, placing immense pressure on facial nerves that connect to the neck. The result is intense referred pain.
- Severely inflamed sinuses trigger a flood of infectious drainage. Swollen neck lymph nodes strain to clear out this fluid, causing local swelling and tenderness.
- Extreme sinus pressure from a bad infection forces neck muscles to severely compensate. Muscle spasms and tightness result.
The cascading effects of uncontrolled sinus swelling and fluids wreak havoc on your neck tissues. Seeking prompt medical treatment for a serious sinus infection minimizes the odds of severe neck pain.
Trying to Find Lasting Relief from Sinus Infection Neck Pain?
Dealing with neck pain on top of sinus misery is a double whammy. However, understanding the underlying anatomical connections makes it clear why sinus inflammation spreads in this way.
Seeking prompt medical treatment and using pain relief remedies allows you to combat a sinus infection before neck discomfort sets in. While frustrating, this too shall pass! Stay diligent with self-care and talk to your doctor to find lasting relief.
At Kaly, we offer customized treatment plans to resolve sinus infections and related symptoms like neck pain. Our experienced ENT specialists can provide the advanced diagnostics and care needed to get you feeling better fast.
Start partnering with the one that will put you first and foremost now!