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Is My Headache Coming From My Neck?

There are various causes to headaches, but there is a specific type of headache called ‘cervicogenic headache’ that is caused by a problem in the upper cervical spine (neck).

Pain usually arises from the suboccipital region, with is under the base of the skull, at the back of the neck, and typically spreads up over the head. In some cases it can refer to behind the eye. Often symptoms will be exacerbated with certain neck movements of postures, such as leaning forward to read a computer screen. Often there will also be some associated neck pain, especially at the upper levels, as well as a reduction in range of motion in the neck.

There is some evidence that multiple structures in the neck (cervical spine) can be the source of pain referral to the head, and is generally centred around the C1, C2 and C3 vertebral levels. Such structures may include the various joints, discs, ligaments and musculature. Studies have shown that the C2/3 facet joints are the most common pain generators with cervicogenic headaches, and the incidence is higher in those with a previous whiplash injury.

Treatment depends on the specific pain generator, but cervicogenic headaches often respond well to usual chiropractic treatment, including spinal manipulation and mobilisation, trigger point therapy, and rehabilitation exercises to correct postural changes that may be aggrevating symptoms. Pain medication may also be of assistance to in the short term to control symptoms. In more severe, chronic cases, that are no responding to standard treatments, nerve blocks and facet joint injections may be required.

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