What is a cervicogenic headache?

What is a cervicogenic headache?

This is a headache arising from the neck. They can trigger further headaches like a migraine or cluster headache but only when severe. ‘Cervicogenic’ means perceived in the head.

It Is fascinating to me that we can get pain in one part of our body that is completely unrelated to that area, similar to sciatica causing pain in your leg when the root of the issue is coming from the base of the spine. A cervicogenic headache stems from the neck and can travel up around the head.

They can be caused by:

  1. Tension in the neck muscles
  2. Spinal misalignment puts pressure on the nerve.
  3. Forward head carriage-postural issues
  4. Neck arthritis
  5. Disc prolapse.

If these issues can cause he headache, how does it happen? With any referred pain it is important to remember that it is the nerves that are affected. With a cervicogenic headache the nerves in the neck are compressed and they refer the pain around the head and eyes.

As Chiropractors our job is to go straight to the root cause of the issue and identify exactly where these are coming from and take pressure off them.

What are the symptoms of a cervicogenic headache?

They are not pleasant and if you have suffered with them it can be frustrating as traditional methods of treating headaches like sitting in a dark room or going to bed don’t often work as you need to address the issue in the neck.

They can be distinguished by:

  1. Pain in the neck-if you have pain in the neck plus a headache than it is likely that they are coming from the neck
  2. The pattern of referral usually starts around the base of the head and travels up and over to behind the eyes, it is usually on one side rather than both and people describe it as right behind the eye.
  3. Sneezing or coughing can exacerbate the pain and make it worse with the increase in pressure
  4. Static pain, once the pain is set in, it tends to stay there and doesn’t jump around the head like a cluster headache or migraine can often do
  5. Stiffness in the neck, the neck will be tender when it is moved and exacerbate the headache and be very stiff.

How to treat a cervicogenic headache at home

As mentioned above sitting in a dark room or trying to sleep it off don’t work with these headaches as they are originating from the neck, so we need to treat the neck. It will slightly depend on what is causing the problem in the neck, if you have a disc prolapse vs arthritis then the treatment will vary and if you don’t have a diagnosis I would recommend doing that first to get an understanding of what is happening.

  1. Posture correction-to get the curve back in the neck and change the position of the neck we can do chin tucks and neck extensions to help alleviate pressure on the neck. These can be done at your desk and are very simple to help with cervicogenic headaches, you can watch more here and here. (there are two different videos there for you)
  2. Traction wedge-using a traction wedge to lie on at home increases the extension of the neck, it opens up the spaces between the joints and can take pressure off the nerve, we recommend using one for 15 minutes, but build it up slowly from 5 minutes as it can sometimes exacerbate the symptoms. Speak to us first so we can advise the specific wedge for you. Watch here
  3. Desk set up-make sure your knees are lower than your hips, your shoulder blades are pulled back and your chin is tucked in and you are taking pressure off the shoulders. A good ergonomic assessment can really improve the way the neck is positioned and help with headaches and other spinal related issues. Watch here
  4. Spinal manipulation- changing the position of the joints and adjusting the spine will take pressure off the nerves and allow the headaches to cease. We get good results here with people with cervicogenic headaches and would be happy to chat with you about how we can help. Find out more here at our free consultation day.

If you do know someone who wants more advice, please send them our details. You can send them this blog and they can request a free copy of our book which has posture related exercises in it as well. Click here for FREE book.

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