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Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headaches

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Cervicogenic headaches most commonly occur on one side of the head or neck. The pain can be mild, moderate, or be severe with neck movement problems.

The pain is felt in the head and neck. It can also be felt in the shoulders or arms. There can even be blurring of vision.

Cervicogenic headache tumor

There can be different causes for a cervicogenic headache. One of the causes can be a tumor in the upper cervical spine.

A tumor would restrict the flow of blood to the neck and spine. The result would be a headache in the neck and spine.

However, it is very rare that people get a cervicogenic headache due to a tumor. Most probably, there are other reasons involved.

What does a cervicogenic headache feel like?

A cervicogenic headache would have the following symptoms:

  • A throbbing pain on one side of the neck or head.
  • Headache that comes up when the head or neck is moved in a particular way.
  • Stiffness in the neck.
  • Difficulty in moving the neck leading to restricted neck mobility.
  • Pain near the eyes.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Migraine-like symptoms that include sensitivity to light and noise.

Cervicogenic headache exercises

Exercises can be very helpful in managing the symptoms of cervicogenic headaches. These exercises can be done under the supervision of a physiotherapist or may be done at home.

  • Lying down on a foam roller with the roll moving from the neck to the back is a helpful exercise.
  • Practicing the right sitting posture by sitting on a chair the right way.
  • Placing one hand behind the back and pulling the head in the opposite direction.
  • Lying on the back with a rolled up towel under the neck and doing chin tucks.

How do I know if my headache is cervicogenic?

A headache is considered to be cervicogenic when it originates in the cervical spine or neck region. It is mostly restricted to one side of the neck or head.

To know if you have a cervicogenic headache, you need to see a doctor. The doctor would carry out a physical exam of the affected area.

They would also use diagnostic aids like X-ray or MRI scan to confirm if the headache is cervicogenic.

Cervicogenic headache causes

In most cases, cervicogenic headache is caused due to structural issues in the neck. Injury to the joints or whiplash injury can cause a cervicogenic headache.

A herniated disc, a tumor in the spinal region, or degeneration of the spine are other reasons for cervicogenic headaches.

Poor posture at work where there is lot of pressure on the neck is another reason for a cervicogenic headache. A pinched or compressed nerve can also cause a cervicogenic headache.

How do you get rid of a cervicogenic headache?

Some of the treatment options that can help you get rid of a cervicogenic headache include:

  • Manual therapy where massage and manipulation of the spine is done to treat the headache.
  • TENS or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation involves using low voltage current to stimulate the nerves. This can help relieve pain.
  • Medications like pain killers, steroids, muscle relaxants, and other drugs like antidepressants can help.
  • For severe conditions where the problem originates at a nerve, surgery may be required.
  • Alternate treatment options like yoga and acupuncture can help.

Cervicogenic headache treatment at home

It is possible to treat a cervicogenic headache at home. Exercises can be very helpful and can be done at home.

Squeezing the shoulder blades is a simple exercise that can be done at home. Chin tucks are another good exercise to try.

Getting a neck massage by someone at home can be helpful. The massage can provide relief from neck and head pain.

Neck massage to treat cervicogenic headache
Cervicogenic headache treatment through massage

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How long does cervicogenic headache last?

A cervicogenic headache can last anywhere from an hour to a week. The duration of the headache depends on the cause.

When the cause is a pinched nerve or problems of the joint, the headache can last for a long time.

Cervicogenic headache pillow

Using a cervicogenic headache pillow is recommended for people who suffer from cervicogenic headaches. The pillow is designed in such a way that it supports the cervical spine in a neutral position.

Latex pillows can be very helpful for people having cervicogenic headaches. The pillow used should keep the neck in line with the back.

It is important that the pillow be neither too soft nor too hard. Old pillows need to be replaced, so they continue to be effective.

Cervicogenic headache special pillow
Pillow for cervicogenic headache

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Can MRI detect cervicogenic headache?

When a doctor suspects a cervicogenic headache, they would like to find out if the cause. Doctors would like to rule out tumors, abscess, herniated disc, or any other condition causing the headache.

One of the common diagnostic tools that doctors prefer is MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan. Unlike other scans, it does not use radiation and is very safe.

MRI machine to scan for cervicogenic headache
MRI scan for headache

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Cervicogenic headache NHS

Cervicogenic headaches are related to the neck and usually happens due to structural issues. It may be possible to prevent these headaches.

Maintaining a proper posture while sitting and avoiding long periods of rest is advised. Regular exercise, including stretching exercise can help ensure flexibility of muscles.

A proper sleeping position with a small pillow can help prevent neck pain and the associated headaches.

How long can a cervicogenic headache last?

The symptoms and intensity of a cervicogenic headache depends on its cause. If it is due to a neck sprain or a postural issue, the headache can resolve quickly.

However, if it is due to a pinched nerve or other such issue it can remain for many days.

Generally, a cervicogenic headache can last for an hour or even last for a week. If untreated, it can last for months.

Cervicogenic headache vs migraine

Sometimes, it is difficult to differentiate between a cervicogenic headache and a migraine. Apart from the pain, vision problems and sensitivity to light/sound are common symptoms.

However, the basic difference lies in the type of headache.

A cervicogenic headache is a secondary headache caused due to some other issue. A migraine headache is a primary headache.

The causes as well as treatment options for both the headaches are different.

FAQs relating to symptoms of cervicogenic headaches

You can know more about cervicogenic headaches and their symptoms by going through the FAQs presented below.

What mimics cervicogenic headache?

Most commonly, a migraine mimics cervicogenic headache. Both migraine and cervicogenic headaches present throbbing pain.

Sensitivity to light and noise, as well as vision problems are common symptoms in both the conditions.

This is why many people get confused and mistake a cervicogenic headache for a migraine. The migraine originates in the brain whereas a cervicogenic headache originates in the neck.

This is why it is important to consult a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Thereby, the right treatment can be offered to ensure effective resolution of the problem.

What kind of doctor treats cervicogenic headache?

A neurologist is usually the doctor who diagnoses and treats cervicogenic headaches. This is because the neurologist can help identify whether the headache is a migraine or cervicogenic.

Sometimes, the headache is caused by a compressed or pinched nerve. In such a case, a neurologist can help spot the problem.

A neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon can also help treat cervicogenic headaches. The services of these doctors would be required when surgery is needed to treat the problem.

What is the first treatment of cervicogenic headache?

Generally, the first treatment of a headache is a pain killer. But in case of a cervicogenic headache, physical therapy is the first and preferred line of treatment.

This is because the headache is secondary in nature. It occurs due to a problem in the neck or spinal cord.

Physical therapy like massage or manipulation can help treat the root cause of the problem. When this happens, the headache would also be treated.

While pain killers can be taken to treat severe pain, therapy is usually the first choice of treatment. Therapy may be administered by a physiotherapist.

It is also possible to exercise or get a massage at home to get relief from the symptoms.

Is cervicogenic headache serious?

A cervicogenic headache originated in the neck region. It can be due to something simple like a neck sprain or postural problems.

In such cases, the headache can be treated easily. In some cases, it may resolve on its own.

However, if the headache is due to a pinched nerve, structural problems, or a tumor then it is serious.

These causes need to be treated immediately failing which there are serious and debilitating consequences.

The quality of life of the patient can be severely affected if not treated properly.

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