Cervicogenic Headaches

What Are Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches are secondary headaches caused by problems with the bones, nerves or soft tissue in the neck or cervical spine area. The pain typically starts in the neck and travels up to the head. This type of headache can be a debilitating medical condition that seriously impacts your quality of life. These headaches can be caused by trauma to the head and neck or osteoarthritis of the cervical spine joints.

The treatment for cervicogenic headaches differs greatly from that of migraine and tension-type headaches, making accurate diagnosis essential for achieving pain relief and improving quality of life.

What Are The Symptoms Of Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headache symptoms can mimic those of a migraine or other types of headaches; However, symptoms of cervicogenic headaches typically may include:

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  • Pain starting in the neck and traveling upwards to the head

  • Pain only on one side of your head or face (in some cases it can occur on both sides!)

  • Pain also along the shoulder and arm of the same side as the headache

  • Reduced neck flexibility (stiff neck) and/or headaches that are triggered by neck movement

  • Worsened headache with coughing or sneezing

What Are The Causes?

The cause of a cervicogenic headache is often related to excessive stress to the neck. Some of the potential causes include:

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  • Cervical osteoarthritis

  • Disc herniation

  • Whiplash injury

  • Poor posture (“forward head motion” or “cervical protraction”)

  • Falling asleep with your head in an awkward position

What Are The Treatments?

Bisphosphonates are the most commonly used medication for the treatment of osteoporosis. Estrogen is typically started in women following menopause. Estrogen can help maintain bone density, however, there are many risk factors, including blood clots, endometrial/ breast cancer, and cardiovascular concerns. Because of concerns about its safety and because other treatments are available, hormone therapy is generally not a first-choice treatment. Physical therapy and exercise can assist in building bone strength and muscle strengthening.