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cervicogenic headache

Cervicogenic Headaches – What are they and what can cause them?

These types of headaches are classed as secondary headaches. Pain is felt in the head, resembling a headache, however, the source of the pain has developed in the neck.

This can be caused by a number of issues, including tightness and strain in the neck muscles. This tension can lead to restricted movement of the neck and discomfort in the neck and shoulders. Overuse of these muscles can be due to a person’s type of work, for example, driving and long periods working at a computer, sporting activities, lack of sleep, stress and anxiety. These tense muscles in the neck, often result in a headache.

Remedial massage to the neck and shoulder muscles, can have a positive effect on reducing the tightness in the muscles, resulting in an increased range of movement and reduction in pain and discomfort. By working through the muscle adhesions, using various massage techniques, including trigger point therapy, the stiffness in the neck can be reduced and full length of the shortened muscles can be restored.

There are a number of changes that can be implemented, which can help to reduce the build up of muscle tension. For instance:

  • changing your sleeping position
  • ensuring your workstation has the correct ergonomic set up
  • taking regular breaks
  • stretching the muscles
  • correcting poor posture

These changes, together with remedial massage, can be of huge benefit to those overused, tired muscles and in turn can result in reduced cervicogenic headaches.

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.