Cervicogenic Headaches – a real pain in the head (and neck) – a brief overview
We have all, at some point, had a headache. Headaches are relatively common, and can be caused by stress, allergy to certain foods, changes to – or lack of – sleep – and even poor posture. At our clinic we often see patients with a headache of cervicogenic origin – or, put simply a headache often related to neck problems beginning at the top of the neck and moving upwards into the head. They can be very painful and debilitating, and can sometimes prevent patients from playing certain sports or continuing activities they enjoy until they are diagnosed.
A bit of anatomy
Cervicogenic headaches occur most often into the oculo-fronto-temporal area. The pain can also radiate downwards into the muscles of the neck, most commonly the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid muscles – and up into the face and head. This has been found to be due to a nerve called the trigeminal nerve, which can refer pain signals downwards into the nearby muscles.1
How can we tell if your headache is cervicogenic?
These headaches can often be difﬁcult to diagnose, as identifying a source can take time. They can be similar at ﬁrst to migraine and tension headaches or occipital neuralgia. Cervicogenic headaches tend to involve more neck pain or stiffness than other types of headache, and may sometimes be brought on by particular motions. Commonly, the headaches would involve ﬂuctuating periods of head and neck pain, which may be provoked by speciﬁc movements of the neck – or pain upon touching areas of the neck.2 They may also come from sports injuries, whiplash, arthritis or compression to nerves in the neck.
Common symptoms of cervicogenic headaches include: – Pain on one side of the neck (or face) – Pain in one side of the face or head – Pain around the eyes – Head pain triggered by speciﬁc neck movements – Photosensitivity – Nausea – Reduced range of motion of the neck – Visual disturbances – such as blurry vision
1.Biondi, David. (2001). Cervicogenic headache: Diagnostic evaluation and treatment strategies. Current Pain and Headache Reports. 5. 361-368.
2. Inan, Nurten & Ateş, Yeşim. (2005). Cervicogenic headache: Pathophysiology, diagnostic criteria and treatment. Aǧrı : Ağrı (Algoloji) Derneği’nin Yayın organıdır, The journal of the Turkish Society of Algology. 17. 23-30.