A cervicogenic headache is simply another name for a headache which originates from the neck and is one of the most common types of headache.
During certain neck movements or sustained postures, stretching or compression force is placed on the joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves of the neck. This may cause damage to these structures if the forces are beyond what the tissues can withstand. Damage can occur from a traumatic experience such as a specific incident or gradually over time. When this occurs pain may be referred to the head causing a cervogenic headache.
Cervicogenic headache typically occurs due to damage to one or more joints, muscles, ligaments or nerves of the top 3 vertebra of the neck. The pain associated with this condition is referred pain (i.e. pain arising from a distant source). In this case referred pain occurs because the nerves that supply the upper neck also supply the skin overlying the head, forehead, jaw line, back of the eyes and ears. As a result, pain arising from the upper neck may refer pain to any of the regions previously mentioned causing a cervicogenic headache.
Although cervicogenic headache can occur at any age, it is commonly seen in patients between the ages of 20 and 60.
Causes of cervicogenic headache:
- Activities that place excessive stress on the upper joints of the neck (traumatic/repetitive).
- Prolonged slouching
- Poor posture
- Lifting or carrying
- Excessive bending or twisting of the neck
- Working at a computer or activities using the arms in front of the body (e.g. housework).
Signs and symptoms of cervicogenic headache:
- Pain and stiffness after provocative activity
- Pain and stiffness upon waking the next morning.
- Constant dull ache, normally situated at the back of the head, occasionally behind the eyes or temple region
- Pain is usually felt on one side, but occasionally both sides of the head and face may be affected
- Difficulty turning neck
- Pain, pins and needles or numbness may also be felt in the upper back, shoulders, arms or hands
- Decreased concentration
- An inability to function normally
Diagnosis of cervicogenic headache:
- X-ray, MRI or CT scan
Contributing factors to the development of cervicogenic headache:
There are several factors which can predispose patients to developing cervicogenic headache.
- Poor posture
- Neck and upper back stiffness
- Muscle imbalances
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle tightness
- Previous neck trauma (e.g. whiplash)
- Inappropriate desk setup
- Inappropriate pillow or sleeping postures
- A sedentary lifestyle
- A lifestyle comprising excessive slouching, bending forwards or shoulders forwards activities.
- Spinal manipulation
- Physical Therapy
- Targeted injections
- Corrections in body posture