Cervicogenic headache is one of several types of headaches, in this case a headache that is caused by injury or dysfunction of the upper neck joints in the spine. It is different from tension-type headache (TTH), which is related to stress symptoms and may have muscle over-contraction as a contributing factor.
How Does The Neck Cause Headache?
The upper neck joints, discs, muscles and ligaments of the neck are supplied by the first, second and third cervical nerves (C1, C2 and C3). This and other nerve relationships allow pain and other sensations from the neck to be interpreted by the nervous system as occurring in the head. This is an example of referred pain, where the pain is felt in an area that is not generating the pain. Sciatica is the most well known example.
How Common Is Cervicogenic Headache?
Estimates vary from over 2% up to 18% of all chronic headaches, so it is a type of headache it is important to distinguish from migraine and tension headache. Men and women are equally affected. Since many medical conditions may cause headaches, it is important that frequent headaches or constant headaches should be evaluated by a medical doctor.
Cervicogenic Headache Symptoms
- One sided headache
- Pain worse with neck movement or static postures
- Pain on examination of the upper neck joints
- Neck pain or neck movement restrictions are commonly associated with this kind of headache
- Weak deep neck muscles
- Moderate to severe pain
- Chronic and episodic
Cervicogenic Headache Treatment
Physiotherapy is the main treatment for this condition. A physiotherapist can assess the neck and decide whether the headache is related to mechanical problems in the cervical spine.
Physiotherapy techniques used in treatment include neck manipulation and mobilisation and strengthening exercises for the deep neck muscles. This has been found to be an effective treatment for cervicogenic headache.
Relaxation, meditation and learning assertiveness may also contribute to improving this kind of headache by reducing any stress related symptoms.
- Biondi DM. Cervicogenic Headache: A Review of Diagnostic and Treatment Strategies. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2005;105(4_suppl):16S-22S. http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2093083
- Page P. CERVICOGENIC HEADACHES: AN EVIDENCE-LED APPROACH TO CLINICAL MANAGEMENT. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2011;6(3):254-266. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3201065/