We’ve all suffered from a nagging headache every now and again, but did you know headaches can sometimes be caused by the neck? These headaches are called “cervicogenic headaches.” Cervicogenic headaches are sometimes misdiagnosed as either migraine or cluster headaches (headaches that originate in the head).

HOW DOES NECK PAIN CAUSE HEADACHES?

The roots of the upper 3 cervical spinal nerves (located at C1, C2, and C3) share a pain nucleus (which routes pain signals to the brain) with the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is the main sensory nerve that carries messages from your face to your brain. Because of the shared nerve tracts, pain is misunderstood and thus “felt” by the brain as being located in the head.

DIAGNOSING CERVICOGENIC HEADACHES

One sign of CH is pain that comes from a sudden movement of your neck. Another is that you get head pain when your neck remains in the same position for some time.

Other signs may include:

  • Pain on one side of your head or face
  • Steady pain that doesn’t throb
  • Head pain when you cough, sneeze, or take a deep breath
  • An attack of pain that can last for hours or days
  • Stiff neck – you can’t move your neck normally
  • Pain that stays in one spot, like the back, front, or side of your head or your eye

Determining the origin of the headache is one of the most controversial and difficult procedures to perform.  Almost all types of headaches share common symptoms of throbbing pain, nausea, sensitivity to light, and sensitivity to noise.  The signs and symptoms that could point towards cervicogenic type include tenderness at the base of the skull and possible exacerbation of symptoms with head and neck movement.

TREATING CERVICOGENIC HEADACHES

The type of treatment a patient receives should be dependent on the type of headache they have to ensure the utmost success in relieving the headache without prolonging the pain and extra cost of erroneous treatment. As a general rule, treatment begins once the diagnosis of cervicogenic headache has been made.

If you have cervicogenic headaches, there are several ways to lessen the pain, or get rid of it completely:

  • Spinal mobilization: This is a mix of physical therapy, massage, and joint movement. It should only be done by a physical therapist, a chiropractor, or an osteopath (a doctor who has special training in the way your nerves, bones, and muscles work together).
  • Other options: Non-surgical ways to deal with the pain include anti inflammatory medication, relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or yoga, and acupuncture.

If headaches are interfering in your life and are getting worse and more frequent, we suggest you go see your doctor or physical therapist as soon as possible. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner your recovery. Remember, your health and well being should always be a top priority.