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Cervicogenic Headache - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Have a splitting headache that seems always to come on whenever you feel pain or a strain in your neck and shoulders? You might be suffering from a specific type of headache of the cervicogenic variety.


With such a complex name, you would think that cervicogenic headaches are a rare condition that only affects a minority. Well, cervicogenic headaches are more common than you think, affecting up to 2.2% of the global population (that’s over 200 million people!).


If you’re looking for a way to get rid of cervicogenic headaches (or trying to identify if that’s what you “migraine episodes” have been), we’re here to break down just what they are, what can cause them, and how to deal with them for good.


What Are Cervicogenic Headaches?


Don’t be intimidated by its technical term — cervicogenic headaches simply describe headaches that originate from the cervical spine or neck region.


Unlike other types of headaches that can have various causes, cervicogenic headaches usually stem from issues in the neck or upper spine, which can result in a nasty throbbing sensation in the head.


Causes of Cervicogenic Headaches


As we mentioned earlier, cervicogenic headaches are those pesky headaches that seem to have their origins in the neck and upper spine. Now, let's dive into the usual suspects behind what causes these troublesome headaches:

  • Neck Issues: Past neck injuries, such as whiplash from car accidents, falls, or sports-related incidents, can leave lasting damage and contribute to cervicogenic headaches.

  • Poor Posture: Bad posture over extended periods, especially hunching at a work desk, can strain the neck muscles, leading to a greater risk of cervicogenic headaches.

  • Muscle Imbalances: Some muscle imbalances in the neck and upper back can place excessive stress on your cervical spine, leading to pain and headaches.

  • Sleeping Position: Sleeping in an awkward, straining positions can lead to neck pain and, in some cases, cervicogenic headaches upon waking.


There are a myriad of other causes that can contribute to cervicogenic headaches, but these are by far the most common.


How to Recognise a Cervicogenic Headache

Signs and Symptoms

Trying to self-diagnose cervicogenic headaches can be a real challenge because their symptoms often resemble those of other headache types.


Avoid jumping to conclusions with a self-assessment. Instead, seek a proper diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional. They have the expertise and tools to accurately determine the nature of your headaches, ensuring you receive the right treatment and care.


Still, we understand that visiting the doctor every time you have a headache is not something everyone can do, so here are some signs and characteristics that can point towards the possibility that you're experiencing cervicogenic headaches:

  • Location of Pain: Cervicogenic headaches typically produce pain on one side of the head. The pain may start in the neck or upper spine and radiate upwards, often affecting the forehead, temples, or the area behind the eyes.

  • Neck and Shoulder Pain: Pain in the neck and shoulders is a common accompanying symptom of cervicogenic headaches. You may experience stiffness, discomfort, or aching in these regions.

  • Pain Triggers: Cervicogenic headaches can be triggered or worsened by certain movements or activities. For example, tilting your head or rotating your neck might exacerbate the pain.

  • Extended Duration: Cervicogenic headaches can last for hours or even days if left untreated, and they are often considered chronic if they occur regularly over an extended period.


You may also find yourself experiencing additional symptoms as a result of cervicogenic headaches:


  • Nausea: Some individuals with cervicogenic headaches may experience mild to moderate nausea, although this symptom is less common when compared to other types of headaches like migraines.

  • Visual Impairment: In rare cases, cervicogenic headaches may cause visual disturbances — such as blurred vision or difficulty focusing.

  • Ear Pain: Occasionally, pain may radiate from the neck to the ear on the same side as the headache, leading to ear discomfort or pain.

  • Scalp Sensitivity: Some individuals may experience increased sensitivity of the scalp (on the side of the headache), making it uncomfortable to touch or brush their hair.


Treatment Options for Cervicogenic Headaches


The symptoms of cervicogenic headaches can range from mildly annoying to excruciating.


But no matter what level of discomfort or pain you suffer from it, we have good news — there are multiple forms of treatment for cervicogenic headaches.


The choice of treatment depends on the underlying causes, the severity of symptoms, and individual preferences.


Physiotherapy


Physiotherapy is the cornerstone of cervicogenic headache treatment, and for good reason. A study in 2015 concluded that 75% of patients with cervicogenic headaches who received neck exercise reported a reduction in headache frequency after 6 months of treatment.


A skilled physiotherapist will help you manage and recover from cervicogenic headaches by helping you:

  • Improve Neck Mobility Specific exercises and stretches can help enhance the range of motion in the neck, reducing stiffness and pain.

  • Strengthen Neck Muscles Strengthening exercises can target weak neck muscles, providing better support to the cervical spine.

  • Correct Your Posture Your physiotherapist will teach you proper posture techniques to prevent recurring headaches.

  • Directly Relieve Pain

Using hands-on techniques, such as joint massages and soft tissue manipulation, can alleviate pain and improve function.


Treatment Options

Medications and Other Therapies


In additional to physiotherapy, some medications and additional therapies can also work in tandem with your treatment to make the symptoms of your cervicogenic headaches more manageable:

  • Painkillers: Non-prescription pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may offer temporary relief from pain and inflammation.

  • Muscle Relaxants: These medications can help relax tense neck muscles, reducing headache symptoms.

  • Nerve Blocks: Injections of anaesthetic or corticosteroids into specific neck nerves can provide significant pain relief.

  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold packs to the neck can help relax muscles and reduce pain.


Clear Your Head With Infinite Health


Cervicogenic headaches are one of the most difficult and frustrating types of headaches to deal with since they don’t simply come and go like viruses or stress-related headaches do. If the root cause of these headaches — such as a neck injury or even nerve damage — is not addressed quickly, they could evolve into a more severe condition over time.


As experts in injury recovery and prevention, the professional team at Infinite Health are always ready to provide high-quality treatments that put you on the best path to recovery.


If you find yourself struggling to cope with the effects of cervicogenic headaches, don’t hesitate to give us a call today or book an appointment with us!


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