In my experience, a sick feeling in the stomach associated with a sore neck can have a few different explanations.
Worst case scenario tends to point towards ligament damage at the top of the neck, and is more associated with severe trauma (high-speed car crash, head high tackles, head first falls/dives) – see ‘when is my neck pain serious’ blog for more detailed information, and whether or not you should be taking yourself to the hospital quicksmart.
Another issue that needs to be ruled out is migraine – these can strike hard and can come with some full-on symptoms like vomiting, light sensitivity, and even so bad as slurred speech and weakness in the arms and legs. If you don’t know if you suffer from migraines, and you’re having these weird symptoms, the hospital is a wise choice.
If all the nasty stuff has been ruled out, and you still have nausea, from what I’ve seen in the clinic it is about a mismatch of signals going from your neck to your brain and spreading around the body. To understand this we need to take a slightly closer look at the brain.
At any given moment, your brain is trying to figure out the world, and help your body to survive in it. If you have a neck based sprain, irritation, or inflammation, your brain will try to figure out the best way to help it. Most of the time it gets it right, and you can manage little niggles and things settle down quite quickly. Sometimes, however, it can’t make sense of the problem, so it will make other things hurt to try to protect the overall system (this is also known as referred pain). This then gets your fight or flight system involved, and occasionally this can trigger different sensations around the body, one of which is nausea.
If it’s a signal mismatch problem, physio treatment will usually work. Similar to neck-based vertigo, hands-on techniques that work on your muscles, joints, nerves and ligaments are where you should start. Usually, you’ll see the physio a few times a week for the first 2-3 weeks, spacing things out further as your symptoms are reducing. Combined with exercises to help out things like posture, neck and shoulder muscle activation and specific balance work, you’ll tend to be back to 100% by around the 6-8 week mark.