What is a cervicogenic headache?

A cervicogenic headache is a headache that originates from the cervical spine and refers pain into the head.  During certain neck movements or sustained postures ,stretching or compression force is placed on the joints, ligaments, muscles and nerves in the neck.  This may cause damage to these structures and can occur traumatically in a specific incident or slowly over time.  When this occurs pain may be referred to the head causing a headache.  The damage is typically done to the upper 3 cervical vertebrae, or ligaments, nerves or muscles surrounding them.  Cervicogenic headache can occur at any age, however age 20-60 is most common.

 

What causes cervicogenic headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches are usually caused by activities that place excessive stress on the joints of the upper neck.  This can be as the result of trauma such as whiplash, however it is most often the result of prolonged repetitive activities, such as poor posture, prolonged slouching or prolonged computer use.

 

What are the symptoms of cervicogenic headaches?

Symptoms usually involve a gradual onset of neck pain and stiffness  followed by headache after an aggravating activity.  Often people wake the following day after an aggravating activity with a headache and neck stiffness.  A dull ache usually at the back of the head is felt although this can also be at the temples or behind the eyes.  Pain, pins & needles, or numbness may also be felt in the upper back or down the arm.  Occasionally symptoms such as light headedness, dizziness, nausea and loss of concentration can also be reported.

 

Physiotherapy for cervicogenic headaches?

 Physiotherapy for cervicogenic headaches may include;

  • Joint mobilisations

  • Soft tissue massage & trigger point releasing

  • Acupuncture / dry needling

  • Electrotherapy such as ultrasound or interferential therapy

  • Postural taping

  • Postural advice

  • Home stretching exercises

  • Deep neck flexor & extensor strengthening exercises

  • Clinical Pilates

  • Advice re: activity modification, appropriate pillows for sleeping

 

Prognosis for cervicogenic headaches.

Most people with cervicogenic headaches do well with appropriate physiotherapy and make a full recovery.  However,  patient compliance affects the time it may take to heal.  Mild cervicogenic headaches can be relieved within a couple of days of treatment.  The more severe the case the longer it may take, often 2-3 weeks, although those severe cases may take months as abnormal movement patterns and muscle imbalances are addressed.

 

What should I do if I think I have cervicogenic headaches?

Call  the physio at Back2Balance Physiotherapy to make an appointment on 3352 5311 for an assessment and advice.