Cervicogenic headaches are an often overlooked type of pain perceived in the head but actually originating from the bony structures or soft tissues of the upper cervical spine, neck and base of the skull. These headaches often involve cramping and tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back causing a nerve impingement that causes pain to radiate across the top or side of head and over the ear and eye. The pain may be reproduced by certain head position and incorrect posture. Whether it is the result of chronic tension, acute trauma, degenerative disease processes combined with faulty posture; cervicogenic headaches can lead to severely debilitating pain and loss of function.
Individuals who experience cervical headaches often have altered neck posture and restricted neck motions. This may be the result of decreased mobility of the joints and ligaments of the upper cervical spine and/or shortened muscle groups throughout the neck and base of the skull. A physical therapist can provide a detailed, individualized examination to determine if pain is originating from the cervical spine.
Physical therapy is the first choice and critical to the success of most other treatment modalities, whether those include drug therapy, pain injections or surgical alternatives. Once the physical therapist completes the evaluation, they will design an individual exercise program to regain proper posture and repositioning of the head which involves relaxing the over stressed upper neck muscles. Therapeutic exercise will also include postural correction, postural endurance training, self-management techniques in order to reduce stress on the cervical spine structures. Manual therapy performed by a physical therapist may include joint mobilization techniques to increase mobility or correct alignments in the bony structure of the upper cervical spine.
Cervicogenic headaches are relatively common type of chronic headaches that are often misdiagnosed or unrecognized. Early diagnosis and management of these headaches including a comprehensive physical therapy treatment program can significantly decrease the pain and disability that is often associated with this challenging disorder
“People with Migraines and neck complaints must first rule out cervicogenic headaches before treatment.”
-The McKenzie Conference International and British Academy of Neurology 1999.
“I came to Dutch with headaches and neck pain. After doing several stretches and exercises to fix the problem, I no longer have pain in my neck or headaches.” Anonymous
“My headache was gone immediately, I didn’t believe I could get relief so quick, but it is true. Amazing! Why didn’t somebody tell me 5 years ago.” H.M.