Don’t Ignore Persistent Neck Discomfort – It Could Signal a Brain Tumor

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a man suffering from persistent neck pain

If you’re suffering from chronic neck pain that just won’t go away, you may suspect stiff muscles or poor posture. But did you know that unexplained neck pain can also be a symptom of something far more serious, like a brain tumor?

While not all neck pain is tumor-related, you should never ignore persistent discomfort or strange new symptoms. This guide aims to shed light on the critical health warning sign you need to know – how lingering neck pain can end up being symptomatic of an underlying brain tumor.

What Types of Cancers Can Cause Neck Pain?

Neck pain can arise as a symptom of several different cancer types that either originate in or spread to the head and neck region. The most common malignancies associated with neck discomfort include:

Type of CancerExplanation
Head and Neck CancersThese cancers form in the larynx, throat, tongue, sinuses, salivary glands, or other tissues of the head/neck, putting pressure on cervical nerves and muscles.
Spinal CancersThese are growths that arise directly from the cervical vertebrae, spinal cord, or surrounding meninges layer, which can impinge nerves. This includes both primary and metastatic spinal tumors.
Brain CancersThese are benign or malignant brain tumors affecting the brain stem, cranial nerves, or cervical nerve roots, frequently causing referral pain to the neck.
Thyroid CancerThis type of cancer develops in the thyroid gland located below the Adam’s apple, and can invade the trachea and compress nerves causing anterior neck pain.
Breast CancerAdvanced breast malignancies that metastasize throughout the body commonly spread to the spine and brain, leading to painful nerve involvement.
Lung CancerMetastatic lung cancers often reach the spine and brain, generating referred neck and shoulder pain.
Multiple MyelomaThis cancer forms in plasma cells and can cause lytic bone lesions in the cervical spine that pinch nerves and create pain.

Is Neck Pain a Symptom of a Brain Tumor?

Yes, when a tumor presses on a cranial nerve or the brainstem, it can generate referred pain signals that travel outward to the neck. Complex neurological connections between the sensory nerves of the brain and those supplying the cervical spine and shoulder muscles cause this.

Specifically, neck pain related to an intracranial tumor frequently localizes in the following areas:

  • Base of the skull or back of the head – Brainstem compression can cause occipital neuralgia felt at the base of the skull. This sometimes radiates down to the shoulders.
  • Sinus and facial areas – Pressure on the trigeminal nerve often produces pain in the face, forehead, cheeks and sinus regions which can also cause neck aches.
  • Upper neck and shoulder region – Irritation of the cervical roots or peripheral nerves can lead to sensory disturbances and pain in the upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoid muscles, and surrounding neck.
  • Entire neck – Diffuse neck pain or torticollis stemming from a brain tumor is also possible if the growth is large enough to broadly impact nervous system signaling.

What are the symptoms of neck pain related to a brain tumor?

  • Back or neck pain that extends to arms or legs
  • Worsening pain at night
  • Weakness
  • Dull, sharp, or burning pain
  • Lack of coordination
  • Numbness
  • Bladder or bowel problems
  • Difficulty walking

Can a brain tumor cause both neck and back pain?

Yes, brain or spinal cord tumors can cause neck and back pain, often due to tumor pressure on these areas. This pain can vary in intensity and character, sometimes worsening at night. Spinal tumors can lead to more pronounced and widespread pain, disrupting brain-to-nerve communication. 

While these symptoms can be linked to tumors, they can also result from other health issues.

Keep in mind that any head pain accompanied by neck aches could indicate intracranial pressure that requires prompt medical evaluation. 

While most people naturally experience tension headaches now and then, new onset of severe or persistent head pain linked with neck tension warrants an exam to rule out sinister causes like a tumor. 

Don’t try to brush off or sugarcoat it or self-treat pain potentially related to a serious problem.

What Types of Brain Tumors Can Lead to Neck Pain?

There are two main categories of brain tumors – primary and secondary (metastatic). Primary brain tumors originate in the brain itself, while secondary tumors spread from cancers elsewhere in the body up to the brain.

The most common primary brain tumors that can cause neck pain include:

Brain Tumor TypeDefinition
GliomasThese tumors form in the glial cells that surround and support nerve cells. Glioblastomas are fast-growing glioma tumors.
MeningiomasSlow growing tumors that form in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. They put pressure on the neck.
Acoustic neuromasNoncancerous tumors along cranial nerves near the inner ear, leading to neck pain.
Pituitary adenomasAbnormal growths in the pituitary gland at the brain’s base, located behind the eyes. This triggers headaches and neck aches.
MedulloblastomasHighly malignant tumors that begin in the lower back part of the brain, potentially spreading to the spine and compressing nerves.

The most frequent secondary brain tumors originate from lung, breast, skin, kidney or colon cancers spreading to the brain. Since these metastases can occur anywhere in the brain, they may affect nerves causing referred neck pain.

What Causes Brain Tumors That Lead to Neck Discomfort?

Experts aren’t entirely sure what triggers most brain tumor growths. But research has linked both primary and secondary types to the following causes and risk factors:

  1. Genetics – Rare genetic disorders like neurofibromatosis and Li-Fraumeni syndrome markedly raise brain tumor risks. Having close family members with brain tumors also increases susceptibility.
  2. Radiation exposure – Previous radiation therapy to the brain or current high dose exposure can damage DNA and spur tumor growth.
  3. Chemical exposure – Working with certain chemicals like paint strippers, hair dyes, pesticides or rubber manufacturing materials seems tied to increased brain tumor risks.
  4. Age and gender – Brain tumors can occur at any age but tend to peak between ages 45-70. Men face higher rates of malignant gliomas while women have more meningiomas.
  5. Head trauma and seizures – Serious head injuries and repeated seizures are associated with higher chances of certain brain tumors, though not definitively proven.
  6. Lifestyle factors – Diet, cell phone usage, and hormone therapy for menopause have been investigated but not fully substantiated as direct causes of brain tumor formation.

The next question becomes how do these abnormal growths specifically provoke neck aches and pain? In most cases, brain tumors cause discomfort and neurological symptoms by pressing on sensitive nerves and structures.

How Are Brain Tumor Headaches and Neck Pain Diagnosed?

a matured man undergoes ct scan test for neck pain diagnosis

If relentless headaches and neck/shoulder pain have you worried about a brain tumor, don’t panic but make an appointment with your primary care physician right away. Your doctor can perform a full history and physical to evaluate the problem.

Based on your symptoms, they may order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to identify the exact cause:

  • Blood tests – Checks for signs of infection or other medical issues contributing to pain.
  • Spinal tap – Analyzes cerebrospinal fluid for abnormal cells indicating a central nervous system tumor.
  • CT or CAT scan – Looks for skull lesions or other indicators of a brain tumor.
  • MRI – Provides more detailed images of the brain’s soft tissue and tumors not seen on CT scans. This is usually the definitive diagnostic test.
  • Neurological exam – Assesses your nerve functioning for any deficits arising from a compressive tumor.

If a serious underlying cause like a malignant brain tumor is discovered, your doctors will connect you with a neuro-oncologist to outline your treatment options and next steps.

Don’t endure headaches and neck pain silently out of fear. Getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial for appropriate medical care and pain relief.

What Treatments Alleviate Neck Pain Associated with Brain Tumors?

The appropriate treatment plan for tumor-related neck pain depends on the type of brain lesion present and whether it’s cancerous. But in general, a multimodal approach to care typically includes:

Treating the tumor 

Removing cancerous tumors via surgery whenever feasible provides lasting pain relief by eliminating the source of nerve compression. Radiation, chemotherapy, or other anti-cancer drugs can shrink inoperable tumors to also decrease pressure on surrounding nerves.


Non-opioid analgesics like NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen) and acetaminophen can relieve musculoskeletal neck pain from a tumor. For neuropathic nerve pain, anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants, or narcotics may be prescribed. But narcotics have major addiction risks.

Physical therapy 

Stretching, massage, cervical traction, ultrasound, and range of motion exercises helps relax the support muscles strained by compensating for a tumor. This also improves mobility limited by neck discomfort.

Complementary therapies 

Stress-reducing mind-body therapies like biofeedback, acupuncture, and cognitive behavioral therapy enables better pain coping. Gentle yoga or tai chi can also loosen up the neck.

Lifestyle changes 

Applying moist heat pads, correcting neck-straining postures, using ergonomic pillows, and listening to the body’s signals of fatigue all enable better neck pain self-management.

The goal is reducing inflammatory sensitization both in the actual tumor site and referred areas of neck pain. By leveraging professional treatment with self-care strategies, significant neck pain relief is often achievable.

What Relief Options Help You Handle Neck Pain from a Brain Tumor?

Living with constant neck pain is stressful enough without the added burden of worrying about a brain tumor being the cause. While professional medical care is crucial, you can integrate these practical self-care tips to find some comfort and control:

  • Use OTC analgesics wisely – Non-prescription NSAIDs like aspirin or ibuprofen can temporarily alleviate inflammatory neck pain when taken as directed. Be cautious of side effects.
  • Apply hot/cold therapy – Use microwavable heating pads or icy gel packs on your neck for 15 minutes at a time to reduce muscle tension and joint stiffness.
  • Correct sleeping postures – Avoid pillows that overextend your neck. Sleep on your back or side with adequate neck support to minimize overnight strain.
  • Maintain proper ergonomics – Reduce neck craning by raising monitors to eye level and bringing keyboards closer. Stand up regularly if you sit all day.
  • Stretch and strengthen – Simple neck rotations, chin tucks, and shoulder rolls can loosen tight muscles. Build strength to support the neck region.
  • Consider stress reduction techniques – Methods like yoga, massage, mindfulness meditation, or counseling can help you develop healthy pain coping skills.
  • Track symptom changes – Note pain levels, location, triggers, and relieving factors in a journal to identify patterns and report to your care providers.
  • Reach out for support – Friends and family, counseling groups, and online communities can provide a safe space to share your fears, stresses, and successes in coping.
  • Communicate with your medical team – Being open about your pain experience allows doctors to make adjustments to better improve comfort and quality of life.

Schedule an Appointment with a Specialist through Kaly

doctor and patient consult

As covered in this guide, chronic neck aches demand proper medical investigation to identify the underlying cause. If your doctor suspects a brain tumor might be contributing to persistent headaches and neck pain, getting prompt access to specialty care is essential.

This is where Kaly can provide helpful assistance. Kaly is an online healthcare platform that conveniently connects patients to top-rated specialists in their geographical area.

In just a few minutes, you can use Kaly’s services to:

Search for highly qualified neurosurgeons, neurologists, or oncologists near you who specialize in brain tumors.

  • Read verified reviews from other patients to find the right provider for your needs.
  • Instantly book consultations with leading specialists for evaluation of your symptoms.
  • Securely share your medical history and records to speed up diagnosis.
  • Access telehealth appointments for fast medical opinions and advice.
  • Check whether the specialist accepts your health insurance coverage.

Kaly streamlines the process of obtaining exams and second opinions from premier medical experts in your community. Customizing your search parameters allows you to filter for the optimal provider to diagnose and treat any brain tumor-related neck pain based on specialty, hospital affiliations, gender preferences, and treated conditions.

With the tap of a button, you can have an appointment scheduled instantly instead of waiting weeks or months in discomfort. Kaly helps fast track next steps so you can get answers and a treatment game plan for relief.

Book a consultation now!