Cervicogenic headaches are headaches that are caused by muscles and joints of the neck (cervical spine).
Signs and Symptoms:
- One-sided headache symptoms usually associated with neck pain
- The pain begins in neck or base of skull (maybe with shoulder/arm pain)
- Moderate intensity (unpleasant but not stabbing, can carry on activities)
- Frequency/duration highly variable – some people will experience almost constant headache, others very infrequent
- Occasionally light headedness, unsteadiness, or visual disturbances.
What causes it?
- Excessive strain caused by poor working postures (prolonged sitting, working in awkward neck postures) can irritate the upper joints of the neck and cause a headache.
- Joint injury:
- From a specific incident such as a sporting or recreational injury or a motor vehicle crash
- Osteoarthritis of the upper neck joints can occur in the late middle-aged to older age groups
- Other contributing factors – nearly all types of pain can be amplified by factors such as stress. It is very common for people with cervicogenic headache to report “I carry my stress in my neck”.
What can you try at home?
- Movement – gentle movement
- Using a foam roller or trigger ball to decrease muscle tension through your upper back and neck
- Be aware of neck postures – try to avoid prolonged sitting and slouch postures at work. Regularly sit upright and tall, and hold the posture for 10 seconds, to relieve strain on joints and muscles. Correct posture at least twice an hour for waking hours. Move regularly
- Heat or ice to the neck may provide some pain relief, especially if followed by postural correction exercises as above.
How can physiotherapy help?
- Thorough assessment and diagnosis
- Education on what to do to help your pain – exercises to reduce muscle tension
- Manual therapy to reduce pain and improve movement - this includes massage of the tight muscles, joint mobilisations. Dry needling or acupuncture can also benefit.
- Exercise program to work specifically on retraining of the deep, upper neck muscles, stretching tight muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle, postural correction exercises, head on neck position, sometimes nerve gliding exercises.