Cervicogenic Headache

What Is A Cervicogenic Headache?


You may not care whether your headache is a cervicogenic headache or not. A headache is a headache. No matter what it’s called, we just want to do what we can to make it go away. What’s so important about knowing whether or not you have a cervicogenic headache? The short answer is this: A cervicogenic headache is often caused by something serious, and something that requires treatment. This isn’t always the case, but not bothering to identify the type of headache you have, and its cause, could be a costly mistake. It’s really a matter of being safe rather than sorry.

Not A “Conventional” Headache


Diagnosing a cervicogenic headache is seldom an easy task. This type of headache is, in many ways, similar to more well-known types of headaches such as migraines and tension headaches. The problem with the cervicogenic headache is that conventional headache treatments seldom provide relief. Furthermore, the condition is not always curable, but once correctly diagnosed, is usually manageable.


There has not always been agreement on the source of the pain for this type of headache. Again, one might say “a headache is a headache”, but unless the source of the pain is known, treatment for the pain will more likely than not be unsuccessful.


Many headache experts believe that the tissues and muscles in the neck are the source of the pain. If these muscles spasm, the pain is referred to the head. In layman’s terms, if a neck muscle is irritated, you may feel the pain in your head, not in your neck. The name cervicogenic comes from the fact that the pain experienced most often is due to a problem in the cervical portion of the spine, which is the neck. A whiplash injury is one common cause of this type of headache.

It should be noted, though, that injury or trauma is not the only cause of cervicogenic headaches. Anything that irritates the muscles in the neck or the cervical portion of the spinal column can result in headache pain. For example, arthritis could be a contributing factor. There are roughly 20 muscles in the neck region, offering plenty of opportunities for a problem to occur.


In the general population, around 1% or 2% suffer from cervicogenic headaches. About 20% of those who have chronic headaches are diagnosed as having the cervicogenic type, and about 4 times as many women as men suffer from this type of headache. The frequency and severity of a cervicogenic headache can vary greatly, but those who suffer from this type of headache often experience it on an almost daily basis.


Primary Symptoms Of A Cervicogenic Headache


The classical symptom of a cervicogenic headache is pain that begins in the base of the neck and progressively moves into the head. Those with the condition often experience a lowered tolerance of pain, making management of the pain sometimes difficult. Head and neck movement, rather than offering relief, can often make the headache worse. The base of the neck usually becomes very tender to the touch upon the onset of the headache.


It is not necessarily the muscles alone which are the source of the pain, though they typically are the prime contributor. When neck muscles spasm, they sometimes can restrict the area through which nerves pass.  This can result in pain, irritation, and in some cases, loss of function. Since such a condition rarely cures itself, it is very important to see a medical professional for treatment. A person suffering from severe attacks of cervicogenic headaches can easily become incapacitated.


Treatment For A Cervicogenic Headache


Medication alone seldom serves as an adequate treatment for this type of a headache although medication can sometimes provide a measure of relief. When medication is prescribed, it typically is an antidepressant, an analgesic, or an antiepileptic drug. It takes an expert to determine the type of medication best suited. Any use of analgesics must be closely monitored as they have a tendency to become addictive.


Treatment for cervicogenic headaches usually involves a combination of medication and physical therapy, sometimes involving the use of chiropractic techniques. There are injections that can help, but they should only be given by an expert in the field. It is of utmost importance to consult with a doctor who knows the subject well, since both the diagnosis and the treatment can be complicated, and the condition can often be quite serious.


An aspirin a day won’t cure a cervicogenic headache. What is helpful though, and strongly recommended by medical professionals, is the practice of keeping the muscles toned. This means following an exercise regimen. Muscles that are well-toned are less apt to cause problems, and also tend to make headaches less severe when they do occur.


It has been shown that those who have the greatest susceptibility to this type of a headache are often those who are not in good physical condition. Once you get the headaches, it might seem to be a little late to begin a conditioning program, but that is one thing that will make treatment and management of the condition much easier.