Cervicogenic Headaches

A cervicogenic headache is a pain originating from the cervical region of the neck. The pain felt is a referred pain since it is felt in the head and face, but not always in the neck where it originated. Because cervicogenic headaches are due to underlying illness or disorders of the cervical spine, surrounding soft tissue, bones, or nerves, they are secondary headaches. Furthermore, although the symptoms can be similar to migraines, the existence of the disease or disorder responsible for the headache sets cervicogenic headaches apart from primary headaches like migraine and cluster headaches.

What are the Symptoms of a Cervicogenic Headache?

In addition to a throbbing pain in your head, you may also experience:

  • Pain on one side of your head or face that starts from the back and radiates towards the front
  • Pain around the eyes
  • Pain while coughing or sneezing
  • A headache accompanied by neck pain and stiffness
  • A reduced range of motion in the neck
  • Pain in the shoulder, or arm on one side
  • Head pain that is triggered by specific neck movements or positions
  • The headache may or may not be associated with neck pain

Cervicogenic headaches can also cause symptoms similar to migraine headaches like:

  • Sensitivity to light, and noise
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea

Underlying Causes and Triggers of Cervicogenic headaches:

Trauma and injury to the cervical region like infection, whiplash, fractures, osteoarthritis of the cervical spine, sports injuries, and a prolapsed disk within a cervical vertebra are all possible underlying conditions that can cause a cervicogenic headache.

Disease and health conditions like tumors and severe high blood pressure can trigger these headaches.

Continued strain in the neck region due to one’s occupation or awkward sleeping positions can also trigger cervicogenic headaches. Jobs like hairstylists, manual laborers, carpenters, and drivers that require long periods of standing, kneeling or sitting, can cause cervical protraction, where your head is out in front of your body. This position can eventually trigger this type of headache.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cervicogenic headaches:

Getting a proper diagnosis for your type of headache is critical to finding a treatment plan that works for you. These tests, along with a complete medical history, will allow us to determine if your headaches are cervicogenic, and suggest an appropriate treatment plan.

Cervicogenic headaches diagnostic testing may include:

  • A physical exam to see if applying pressure to different areas of your neck, or moving your neck into different positions, causes pain or triggers headaches.
  • Advanced diagnostics like X-Rays, MRI, CT scans and electrodiagnosis.

Treatments for Cervicogenic Headaches:

1. Physical Therapy

Manipulation of the joints and massage of the surrounding muscles can be an effective treatment for many people suffering from cervicogenic headaches if the cause of the pain is a structural problem in the neck.

2. Radiofrequency Neurotomy

This procedure uses heat generated by radio waves to target specific nerves in the neck and stop them from sending pain signals. Radiofrequency neurotomy can provide relief from the pain caused by cervicogenic headaches.

3. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

TENS is a therapy that provides short-term pain relief using the electric current from a device to stimulate nerves at the source of the pain.

4. Alternative and Home Treatments

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Relaxation and deep breathing exercises
  • Using a neck brace at night and practicing good posture when sitting or standing will prevent your neck from tilting forward.

5. Surgery or Injection

  • In extreme cases, surgery may be needed to relieve pressure on nerves if that is the cause of your cervicogenic headache.
  • Nerve Block, an injection of a corticosteroid into or near the nerves in the back of the neck, can be used to stop the pain in people whose underlying problem is with the cervical nerves.

6. Medication

Although it is our goal to arrive at a treatment plan that addresses your individual needs without using prescribed medication, they are sometimes necessary and used to provide temporary relief. Over the counter, and prescribed medications can include:

  • Aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Muscle relaxants to reduce spasms, and stiffness
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antiseizure medications



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