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Understanding Cervicogenic Headaches: Causes and Treatments

Cervicogenic headaches are a type of headache that stem from issues in the cervical spine (the neck). They can significantly impact daily life, causing pain and discomfort that can be mistaken for migraines or tension headaches. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for cervicogenic headaches is essential for effective management and relief.

What Are Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches originate from the cervical spine, specifically the bones, discs, and soft tissues in the neck. This type of headache is often misdiagnosed, leading to prolonged discomfort and improper treatment.

Common Causes:

  • Neck Injuries: Whiplash and other neck injuries can lead to chronic neck pain and headaches.

  • Arthritis: Degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis can affect the cervical spine, causing pain that radiates to the head.

  • Muscle Strain: Overuse of the neck muscles can contribute to cervicogenic headaches.


The symptoms of cervicogenic headaches can vary but typically include:

  • Neck Pain: Often the pain begins in the neck and radiates to the head.

  • Reduced Range of Motion: Stiffness and reduced movement in the neck.

  • Unilateral Pain: The headache usually affects one side of the head.

  • Pain Triggered by Neck Movement: Specific neck movements or positions can trigger or worsen the headache.

Treatment Options:

Effective management of cervicogenic headaches often involves a combination of treatments aimed at addressing the underlying neck issues.

  1. Physiotherapy: A physiotherapist can develop a personalised treatment plan that includes manual therapy, exercises, and ergonomic advice to improve neck posture and function.

  • Manual Therapy: Techniques such as joint mobilisations and manipulations can help alleviate neck stiffness and improve mobility.

  • Exercises: Strengthening and stretching exercises for the neck and upper back can enhance posture and reduce pain.

  • Ergonomic Adjustments: Recommendations for improving workplace ergonomics can prevent strain and promote better posture.

  1. Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs can provide temporary relief. In some cases, prescription medications may be necessary.Consult with your GP to find out more.

  2. Injections: In certain cases, corticosteroid injections or nerve blocks may be recommended to reduce inflammation and pain.

  3. Lifestyle Changes: Incorporating regular breaks from sitting, using supportive pillows, and practicing good posture can prevent and reduce headache frequency.

Cervicogenic headaches can be managed effectively with the right approach. By addressing the root cause of the neck pain and incorporating targeted treatments, individuals can significantly reduce the frequency and intensity of their headaches. If you are experiencing persistent headaches and neck pain, consulting a physiotherapist can be a crucial step towards relief and improved quality of life.

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