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Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic Headaches

What is a Cervicogenic Headache?

A cervicogenic headache is a secondary headache caused by lesions in the first several vertebrae of the cervical spine, or damage to the neck muscles. It can feel similar to a migraine, but differs in that the pain is rooted in the base of the skull.

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches can be caused from a variety of things including:

  • Injury or trauma to the neck/base of the skull, such as whiplash, or sports injuries
  • Degenerative diseases, like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • A pinched nerve in the neck
  • Forward head posture, such as looking down at a computer screen or cell phone for long periods of time
  • An occupation that requires looking down for long periods of time, such as a hairstylist
  • Poor sleeping position, such as sleeping in a chair or with a pillow that is too thick
  • A tumour or fracture in the neck

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches are most often recognized by a pain at the base of your neck, and pain and difficulty moving your neck. Other symptoms include:

  • Tenderness in the top three vertebrae of your spine
  • Pain on one side of your face
  • Neck weakness
  • Worsening headache with neck movement
  • Head pain when taking a sharp inhale or sneezing
  • Muscle pain and tightness in the shoulders

How are Cervicogenic Headaches Treated?

Depending on the cause, cervicogenic headaches can be treated at home and in a clinical setting. To ease the pain associated with cervicogenic headaches, you can:

  • Rest
  • Avoid aggravating activities
  • Practice relaxation techniques, like deep breathing
  • Use anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease the pain

Physiotherapy for Cervicogenic Headaches

A pt Health physiotherapist will assess your cervicogenic headache; depending on the cause and severity of your cervicogenic headache, treatment can include:

  • Strengthening and range of motion exercises
  • Manual therapy (joint and soft tissue mobilizations)
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Personalized exercise plan
  • Pain relieving modalities such as:
    • Therapeutic ultrasound
    • Heat and ice therapy
    • Electrical stimulation
    • Acupuncture
  • Assistive devices to improve neck support, such as therapeutic pillows
  • Functional retraining and activity modification

Can Cervicogenic Headaches go Away on Their Own?

Yes, mild cases of cervicogenic headaches can resolve itself after home treatment. However, if your cervicogenic headache is a result of poor posture or a degenerative disease, it is likely to reoccur without assisted treatment.

Can you Prevent Cervicogenic Headaches?

If you have an increased risk of developing cervicogenic headaches (you have a degenerative disease or forward head posture) speak to your physiotherapist about your specific therapeutic needs. However, you can take steps to avoid cervicogenic headaches including:

  • Practice good posture
  • Ensure movement and stretching when looking in one place for a while
  • Ensure proper neck support when sleeping