Cervicogenic Headache

Cervicogenic headaches originate from issues in the neck, such as muscle tension, joint dysfunction, or nerve compression. They're often triggered by poor posture, injury, or underlying neck conditions.

Cervicogenic Headache
Cervicogenic Headache
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Your Guide to Understanding Cervicogenic Headache

What is Cervicogenic Headache?

Cervicogenic headaches are a specific type of headache that originates from issues in the neck, specifically the cervical spine. These headaches are caused by problems such as muscle tension, joint dysfunction, or nerve compression in the neck area. The pain associated with cervicogenic headaches typically starts in the neck and then radiates up to the head, often affecting one side. It can be a dull, aching pain that feels like a tight band around the head.

The exact cause of cervicogenic headaches can vary, but there are several factors that can contribute to their development. Poor posture, especially prolonged periods of sitting or working in positions that strain the neck, can put excessive stress on the cervical spine and surrounding muscles, leading to the onset of headaches. Additionally, previous neck injuries such as whiplash, neck trauma, or even degenerative conditions like arthritis can also trigger cervicogenic headaches.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Cervicogenic Headache?

Physiotherapy services offer a unique approach to alleviate cervicogenic headaches. Cervicogenic headaches are typically caused by referred pain from structures in the neck. Physiotherapists focus on addressing the underlying cervical spine dysfunction that contributes to these headaches. Through techniques like manual therapy, joint mobilizations, and soft tissue release, physiotherapists can help improve the mobility and alignment of the cervical spine, reducing the referred pain.

They may also provide exercises to strengthen the neck muscles and improve posture, which can alleviate the frequency and intensity of cervicogenic headaches. Additionally, physiotherapists can educate patients on ergonomics and self-care strategies to prevent future headaches. By targeting the root cause, physiotherapy can effectively alleviate cervicogenic headaches and improve overall neck function.

What causes Cervicogenic Headache?

Cervicogenic headaches are typically caused by problems in the neck, specifically the cervical spine. These issues can include:

  • Muscle tension, joint dysfunction, or nerve compression.
  • Poor posture, especially when sitting or working in positions that strain the neck, can put excessive stress on the cervical spine and surrounding muscles, leading to the onset of cervicogenic headaches.
  • Previous neck injuries, such as whiplash or trauma, can also trigger these headaches.
  • Additionally, degenerative conditions like arthritis can contribute to the development of cervicogenic headaches. It's important to address these underlying causes in order to manage and prevent cervicogenic headaches effectively.

What treatments might help Cervicogenic Headache?

The treatment for cervicogenic headaches aims to alleviate pain and improve symptoms. While there is no specific protocol, various techniques can be used to help manage this condition. Here are some ways in which treatment can potentially improve cervicogenic headaches:

  • Medications: Pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to reduce headache pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy: Engaging in physical therapy exercises designed to strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles, improve posture, and increase flexibility can help alleviate cervicogenic headache symptoms.
  • Nerve blocks: In some cases, nerve blocks, which involve injecting a local anesthetic into specific nerves, may be used to provide temporary relief from cervicogenic headache pain.
  • Manual therapy: Techniques such as gentle muscle stretching, joint mobilization, and cervical traction performed by a trained healthcare professional can help relieve pressure on the affected areas and reduce pain.
  • Posture correction: Correcting poor posture habits, such as slouching or sitting in a hunched position, may contribute to improved cervicogenic headache symptoms.
  • Stress management: Learning stress-reduction techniques, such as relaxation exercises or meditation, can help manage triggers and decrease the frequency and intensity of cervicogenic headaches.

Signs of Cervicogenic Headache:

Cervicogenic headaches have specific signs and symptoms that can help identify them. Here are some common indicators:

  • One-sided head pain: Cervicogenic headaches often cause pain on one side of the head. The pain may start in the neck and radiate to the back of the head, temples, forehead, or behind the eyes.
  • Neck pain or discomfort: The headache is usually accompanied by pain or discomfort in the neck, shoulder, or upper back region. This neck pain is typically present before or during the headache.
  • Limited neck movement: People with cervicogenic headaches may experience stiffness or reduced range of motion in the neck. Turning the head or moving it in certain positions may worsen the pain.
  • Headache triggered by neck movement or positions: Certain neck movements, such as tilting the head backward or maintaining a prolonged awkward posture, can trigger or worsen cervicogenic headaches.
  • Tenderness in the neck and shoulder muscles: Palpating or pressing on specific areas of the neck and shoulder muscles may elicit tenderness or discomfort.
  • Pain relief through neck interventions: Cervicogenic headaches often respond positively to treatments targeting the neck, such as chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy exercises, or manual therapy techniques.

Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headache:

Cervicogenic headaches can cause several symptoms that may help identify them. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Head pain on one side: Cervicogenic headaches often result in pain on one side of the head. The pain may start in the neck and then radiate to the back of the head, temples, forehead, or behind the eyes.
  • Neck pain or discomfort: Along with the headache, there is usually accompanying pain or discomfort in the neck, shoulder, or upper back. This neck pain may be present before or during the headache.
  • Limited neck movement: People experiencing cervicogenic headaches may have a stiff neck or reduced ability to move their neck comfortably. Certain movements, such as turning the head or assuming certain positions, may aggravate the pain.
  • Headache triggered by neck movements or positions: Specific neck movements or holding awkward postures for an extended period can trigger or worsen cervicogenic headaches.
  • Tenderness in neck and shoulder muscles: Palpating or applying pressure to certain areas of the neck and shoulder muscles may elicit tenderness or discomfort.
  • Relief through neck interventions: Cervicogenic headaches often respond positively to treatments focused on the neck, such as chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy exercises, or manual therapy techniques.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Cervicogenic Headache?

If you are experiencing symptoms of cervicogenic headaches and suspect that neck issues may be the cause, it is a good idea to consider seeing a physiotherapist. Here are some signs that indicate it may be the right time to seek their expertise:

  • Frequent or persistent headaches: If you are regularly experiencing headaches that originate from the neck and the pain is affecting your daily life, it is advisable to consult with one of these healthcare professionals.
  • Neck pain or stiffness: If you have ongoing neck pain or stiffness that accompanies your headaches, it could be a sign of underlying neck problems that need to be addressed.
  • Limited range of motion: If you find it challenging to move your neck comfortably or have difficulty turning your head without pain, it may be beneficial to seek professional help.
  • Past neck injuries or trauma: If you have a history of neck injuries or trauma, such as whiplash, and are now experiencing headaches, it is worth getting evaluated by a healthcare professional who specializes in treating these conditions.
  • Failed self-management strategies: If you have tried self-care measures such as stretching, relaxation techniques, or over-the-counter pain medications, but have not found significant relief from your headaches, seeking professional guidance can provide you with more effective treatment options.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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Physiotherapist Brittany Pereira working with client at Anchor Health and Performance Clinic Mississauga
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