Have you ever heard of a Cervicogenic headache?

A Cervicogenic headache (CGH) is a type of secondary headache disorder brought on by the dysfunction of any neck joints. These headaches usually start off from upper three neck joints, neurovascular structures or neck muscles. When the neck joints become stressed they trigger pain signals that travel to the brainstem and is then interpreted as a neck headache.

What Can Trigger A Neck Headache?

  • Any dysfunction either in the occipital or axial neck joints, the C2/3 cervical spine joints, can cause neck headaches.
  • Stiff neck muscles or locked facet joint, and even poor posture can start off a neck headache and even face pain.
  • Any overworked and tight neck and shoulder blade muscles originating from the neck will also cause pain.
  • Neck muscles can also become weak and display signs of muscle fatigue from disuse.
  • When bony growths, swelling, arthritis, etc, pinches the nerves in the upper neck it irritates the upper neck structures, which refer the pain signals along the nerves, causing a headache.

Characteristics of A Neck Headache

There are common characteristics that a neck headache shares with other sources of headache, including migraine, since the pain experienced in both is in and around the head. Fortunately the correct treatment can help confirm and reduce neck headaches immediately. With neck headaches you will usually notice:

  • The pain slowly spreads from the back to the front of your head.
  • There is stiffness in your neck and a sustained neck posture aggravates the headache.
  • There is tenderness at the base of the skull and it is painful on movement.
  • Your headache is constant and worse on one side of the head.
  • Neck massage helps to ease your headache temporarily.

If you have had a constant headache or migraine for years, then you need a thorough neck examination to either confirm or exclude a neck disorder as the cause of your headache.

Diagnosis of Neck Headaches

Accurate diagnosis of the cause of your headache will help with quick and correct management of it. Unfortunately X-rays, CT-scans and MRI’s cannot confirm a neck headache but they can be useful to identify abnormal structures that may be causing your neck pain. If you have had persistent neck pain for a number of years, a cervical spine X-ray may be recommended.

Treatment for A Cervicogenic Headache

Here is a list of some of the techniques that may be used for your neck headache treatment-

  • Joint mobilization, joint manipulation techniques or traction to loosen stiff neck joints
  • Deep neck muscle strengthening exercised to help stabilize and control dynamically unstable joints
  • Stretching, acupuncture, foam rolling or other relaxation techniques for tight or overactive muscles
  • Strengthening exercised for weak shoulder and neck muscles
  • Exercises or posture brace for posture awareness and correction

Get Help From IBJI

The Illinois Bone & Joint Institute has more than 90 orthopedic physicians, and 20 locations throughout Chicago. We’re here to help you move better so you can live better.