what is a cervicogenic headache

What is a Cervicogenic Headache (CH)?

A cervicogenic headache is a non-throbbing pain felt at the back and base of your skull that may also radiate between your shoulder blades. Cervicogenic headaches can also extend to your temple, forehead or behind your eyes.

The pain is usually felt on one side, but sometimes both sides may be affected. Neck pain, stiffness and difficulty in turning your neck are the main symptoms. Rarely, you may also experience light-headedness, nausea or tinnitus.

Causes

Cervicogenic headaches are caused by tension in the joints and the muscles in your neck. They can also be triggered by a fall, a sports injury, whiplash, arthritis or compression of a nerve.

Specific jobs including hairdressing, carpentry and decorating can create tension in the neck because during the work the head often tilt.

Computer work can also contribute to the development of a CH if the workstation is not set up correctly. You can also get a CH from a tumour or a fracture in your upper spine or neck.

Diagnosis

There are many different types of headaches. Your GP will examine you and ask questions about your health. Make sure that you tell them:

  • The onset.
  • The trigger.
  • Where it hurts.
  • If you have a fever or a rash.
  • Whether the headaches are getting worse.
  • If the headache comes suddenly and is very painful.

If you ever feel dizzy, then you should get emergency medical care.

Sometimes, your doctor may carry out a blood test to rule out other causes for the headaches. In some cases, you will require a scan.

Treatment

If you suffer from a cervicogenic headache, there are several ways to reduce the pain or get rid of it altogether:

  • Medication: a course of paracetamol or ibuprofen may be indicated.
  • Physical therapy: stretches and exercises that will improve your condition.
  • Manual therapy: osteopathy, physiotherapy, chiropractic or acupuncture.
  • Nerve block: a specialist injection into a nerve in the back of your head, temporarily relieving the pain.
  • Surgery: in extreme cases, your GP might suggest an operation to decompress your nerves if your pain is severe.

Does osteopathy work for Cervicogenic Headaches?

The good news is that osteopathic treatments can lessen cervicogenic headaches and, in many cases, resolves them completely.

A key benefit of osteopathy is that it is drug-free, offering a non-invasive approach that seeks to get to the root of the presenting symptoms.

After taking a detailed case history and completing a thorough examination, the osteopath will present you with a personal treatment plan.

This might include soft tissue massage, stretching, joint mobilization and postural advice. If necessary, osteopathic will recommend spinal manipulation.

This alleviates the symptoms of CH, and it supports the body’s intrinsic healing mechanism to minimize any reoccurrence of the condition.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Garcia, J.D., Arnold S., Tetley K., Voight K., Frank R. A. (2016). Mobilization and Manipulation of the Cervical Spine in Patients with Cervicogenic Headache: Any Scientific Evidence? Front Neurol, 7:40. Published online.

Nilsson N., Christensen H.W., Hartvigsen J. (1997). The effect of spinal manipulation in the treatment of cervicogenic headache. J Manipulative Physiol, 20(5):326-30.

Shooke C. M. (2002). Models of headache and their implications for treatment using manual therapies. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 1(2), pp 62-69.

Author Info

Antonietta D'Angelo

Antonietta graduated from the British School of Osteopathy and has worked in the areas of HIV, Sports, Expecting Mothers and Children’s Clinics. Antonietta is also a qualified holistic and sports masseur. Her specialist areas of interest include the osteopathic treatment of children and pregnant women as well as cranial and visceral osteopathy.