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Treatment for Cervicogenic Headaches

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The treatment for a cervicogenic headache depends on the cause of the headache. The cause could be a problem in the spine, disc, or some other part.

The root cause of the headache needs to be diagnosed. Once this is done, then the appropriate treatment can be chosen to ensure effective treatment.

Cervicogenic headache exercises

Exercise is one of the key treatment options for cervicogenic headaches. This is especially true for headaches occurring due to postural issues or muscle imbalance.

The aim of these exercises is to stretch the neck while strengthening its muscles. Cycles of contraction and relaxation can help achieve this.

The exercises are administered by a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. Some of the exercises can also be done at home.

These exercises include shoulder squeezes, chin tucks, and turning the head from side to side. Doing these exercises regularly can help in providing relief from cervicogenic headaches.

What triggers cervicogenic headache?

A cervicogenic headache is located in the neck. Therefore, various problems related to the neck and spine can lead to a cervicogenic headache.

Some of the causes that trigger a cervicogenic headache include:

  • A whiplash injury.
  • Osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative disease.
  • Prolapsed disc in the neck.
  • Sprain or any injury to the neck.
  • Problem with the posture.
  • Pinched or compress nerve in the neck region.

Cervicogenic headaches symptoms

The common symptoms of cervicogenic headaches include:

  • Pain on one side of the neck or head that is non-throbbing in nature.
  • Pain when breathing deeply, sneezing, or coughing.
  • Stiffness in the neck and difficulty in moving the neck.
  • Pain that remains in one part of the neck.
  • Head or neck pain that occurs either due to sudden movement or by remaining in the same position.
  • Pain in the shoulders or arms.
  • Problems with the vision.
  • Sensitivity to light or noise.

What is the first treatment of cervicogenic headache?

The first option to treat a cervicogenic headache is therapy. Manual therapy or manipulation of the spine and neck muscles can help treat cervicogenic headaches.

Physiotherapy helps in stretching of the neck muscles. It also helps to strengthen the neck muscles and can be very helpful in treatment.

The therapy would be administered by a physiotherapist. The therapy would also include exercises that can be done at home.

Cervicogenic headache vs migraine

A cervicogenic headache can be similar to a migraine. This can lead to ambiguity in diagnosing the headache as being cervicogenic.

The basic difference is that a migraine is a primary headache that occurs in the brain. A cervicogenic headache is a secondary headache, where the pain occurs due to a problem in the neck.

Stiffness in the neck is a symptom that helps to distinguish a cervicogenic headache from a migraine. Unlike migraines, cervicogenic headaches are restricted to one side.

What kind of doctor treats cervicogenic headache?

Usually a neurologist would treat a cervicogenic headache. A cervicogenic headache can occur due to a compressed nerve.

It is also possible that it may be caused by a tumor. This is why a neurologist is usually consulted to rule out all such causes.

Where surgery is needed to remove the tumor, a neurosurgeon may treat the patient.

An orthopedic doctor can also treat a cervicogenic headache, since the headache is related to the muscles and joints. If surgery is required to fix a herniated disc, then an orthopedic surgeon would be involved in the treatment.

Doctor treats cervicogenic headache

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Cervicogenic headache tumor

There could be various causes for a cervicogenic headache. A tumor is one of the possible causes.

A tumor in the neck or spinal cord can press on the nerves causing pain. This is usually rare.

However, doctors would want to rule out this cause for which they ask for an MRI scan.

Do cervicogenic headaches go away?

A cervicogenic headache can occur due to pain in the neck. This can be due to a sprain or an issue related to sitting or sleeping posture.

In such cases, the neck pain can resolve on its own making the headache go away. Mild cases can go away after some time or after home treatment.

However, if it is related to the posture the headache can always come back. Until the postural problems are corrected, the headache would not go away.

It must be noted if the pain is severe or the cause deep-rooted then the headache will not be resolved until the cause is treated.

How long can a cervicogenic headache last?

A cervicogenic headache would last until the cause is eliminated. When it is due to a minor neck sprain or such issue, it can resolve in a few hours.

If it is due to some other deep-seated problem then it can go on for weeks. Where the reason is something serious like a herniated disc or pinched nerve it can continue for even months.

Until the cause is identified and treated, the headache will not go away. If treatment is not started, the pain can worsen going forward.

Can MRI detect cervicogenic headache?

An MRI is the preferred choice for detecting a cervicogenic headache. This is because the MRI is safe and can identify structural issues causing the headache.

The MRI can reveal if there is a tumor, nerve-related issue, or a herniated disc. Most doctors would advise an MRI scan to help identify the root cause.

The MRI is preferred because it does not use radiation for the scanning.

Cervicogenic headache treatment at home

It is possible to treat a cervicogenic headache at home, provided the symptoms are mild. When the headache is due to posture or a neck sprain then it can be treated at home.

Exercises like shoulder blade squeezes and chin tucks can help in the treatment. The exercises can be done at home daily until relief is obtained.

It must be noted if the headache symptoms are severe then it is important to see a doctor to identify the cause.

Cervicogenic headache causes

Problems related to the cervical or neck region are why cervicogenic headaches occur.

Problems in the vertebrae, inflammation or injury to the neck, pinched nerves, and tumors are other causes of cervicogenic headaches.

In many cases, it could be due to poor posture while sitting or sleeping.

Cervicogenic headache sleeping posture

The posture you adopt while sleeping can be a cause for the cervicogenic headache. A bad posture can affect the neck leading to the headache.

If you already suffer from a cervicogenic headache, it is very important to maintain a proper posture while sleeping.

You may need a special cervicogenic pillow that gives your neck proper support. While sleeping you need to ensure your back and neck are in alignment.

This is the best position and will prevent unnecessary neck problems.

Baby sleeping

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FAQs relating to how treatment for cervicogenic headaches

The FAQ’s listed below help you understand more about how cervicogenic headaches can be treated.

Where does a cervicogenic headache hurt?

A cervicogenic headache starts in the neck. It mostly causes neck pain, stiffness in the neck, and difficulty in neck movement.

From the neck, the pain can move to the head. The pain is felt at the base of the skull near the neck.

The pain may also be felt in other parts of the head, but is usually on one side of the head.

Apart from this, the pain can be felt in the shoulders and arms. The location and severity of pain depends on the cause.

What mimics cervicogenic headache?

A migraine mimics a cervicogenic headache. While most cervicogenic headaches are related to the neck, the pain can be felt all over the head.

The intensity of the pain and the location can be similar to a migraine. Sometimes, the cervicogenic headache can be accompanied by blurred vision and sensitivity to light and noise.

These are classic migraine symptoms and hence it is possible to confuse a migraine with a cervicogenic headache.

However, a migraine is related to the brain while a cervicogenic headache is related to the neck.

While a migraine pain can be on both sides, a cervicogenic headache leads to pain on one side.

Can a chiropractor help with cervicogenic headache?

Therapy is the first line of treatment for a cervicogenic headache. This is because the cause of the neck pain has to be addressed.

Therapy can help in stretching and strengthening the muscles of the neck and back. This can help in providing relief from the pain.

A chiropractor would be ideal to help in therapy for cervicogenic headaches. The chiropractor is skilled in spinal manipulations and chiropractic adjustments.

Their experience and expertise would help patients get relief.

Doctor treating patient for headache relief

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When should I go to the ER for cervicogenic headache?

A cervicogenic headache is rarely severe. Usually, there is no need to go to emergency when you get a cervicogenic headache.

However, the headache may be due to a tumor or some other serious medical condition. In such a case, there could be other symptoms that are serious.

If you experience a sudden pain that increases in intensity then it would be advisable to visit the ER.

Going to the ER is recommended if you feel dizzy or experience vision problems suddenly.

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