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Cervicogenic Headache

headaches trigger point

What is an acervicogenic headache?

World Cervicogenic Headache Society defines cervicogenic headache as “referred pain perceived in any part of the head caused by a primary nociceptive source in musculoskeletal tissues innervated by cervical nerves.”

Structures of the neck that can cause these referral headaches can include muscles, spinal joints or joint capsules, ligaments, nerves, and arteries.

How do I know if my headaches are cervicogenic?

Signs of cervicogenic headaches:

  • Unilateral pain that is localized to the neck or base of the skull, and may project to the forehead, eyes, temples, and ears
  • Pain is described as deep and non-throbbing (throbbing pain may be indicative of migraine headaches)
  • Pain is aggravated by special neck movements or sustained neck posture
  • Range of motion in the neck is restricted
  • Abnormally tender neck muscles
  • Neck muscle changes (contour, texture, tone)
  • Radiological imaging shows movement abnormalities into flexion/extension, abnormal posture, or other spinal pathologies.
  • Increased intensity when coughing or sneezing
  • Pressure to the posterior neck worsens the pain
  • Heat and neck stretches reduces symptoms

Who is likely to suffer from cervicogenic headaches?

15-20% of people suffering from headaches are believed to be carcinogenic.

Women are 4 times more likely to have cervicogenic headaches when compared to men. This is one of the most common types of headaches in weight-lifting athletes.

What causes cervicogenic headaches?

The most common cause of cervicogenic headaches is the lack of support by key postural muscles causing increased stress on overactive muscles.

This can be related to sustained neck postures seen in sedentary nature of various occupations (e.g. computer work, hairdressers, musicians, drivers).

How can a physiotherapist or a chiropractor help reduce my headaches?

A physiotherapist or chiropractor will complete a full history and physical assessment to determine if your headaches are cervicogenic in nature, as well as the cause of the headaches (whether it is a tense muscle, or misaligned vertebrae).

If the cause is joint or muscle related, treatments will focus on minimizing the amount of strain that is going through that muscle or joint. This includes postural education, manual therapy, soft tissue therapy, stretching programs, and myofasical release therapies.

Exercises will also be given to regain muscular balance in the neck. If spinal pathologies are present, speak with your family physician to ensure you are cleared to do physiotherapy or chiropractic.

Written By: Danette Lam, PT

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