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What Are Cervicogenic Headaches?

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Headaches may occur due to many reasons and sometimes the reasons are unclear. If you have headaches associated with stiff neck or pain in the neck joint, there is a chance that you have cervicogenic headaches.

Cervicogenic headache is a spinal condition that results in unilateral pain in the neck. In this article, we will discuss cervicogenic headaches.

Cervicogenic headaches treatment

There are a few ways to treat cervicogenic headaches. You can try one or more of these treatment methods, but it would be best to consult a professional.

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen work best. Other than that, muscle relaxants and other pain relievers may also work.
  • The nerve blocking technique may temporarily relieve pain. Along with that, physical therapy also helps.
  • Spinal manipulation is a process that involves massage, physical therapy, and joint movement. A chiropractor consultation is recommended.
  • There are some non-surgical ways such as acupuncture, yoga, and relaxed breathing.
  • To treat severe pain, your last option is to go for surgery.

What are the symptoms of a cervicogenic headache?

Pain may occur in two ways. You may feel pain after a sudden neck movement.

You may get head pain when your neck remains in the same position for some time. There are other complications associated with this condition.

You may feel pain in one side of your head. Steady pain increases with cough, sneezing, or taking deep breaths.

The attack of pain may last for hours or longer. The neck can become stiff, making it harder to move your head.

Pain may stay in one spot like the front, side, or back of the head or in your eyes.

Cervicogenic headache tumor

It is not always the case where a cervicogenic headache turns into a tumor. Sometimes a tumor can mimic the cervicogenic headache such as in case of parapharyngeal tumor.

But without proper diagnosis and treatment, cervicogenic headaches can turn into a tumor. If you feel your headaches are worsening at night or in the early morning, that may be a sign of a tumor.

Blurry vision, double vision, or loss of vision along with constant pain in the back of head may be signs of a tumor.

How do you get rid of a cervicogenic headache?

There is not a single kind of treatment process involving cervicogenic headache. You have to apply a combination of therapies to deal with this condition.

Manual therapy including joint movement and manipulation may help. A massage or physical therapy is the best choice.

Physical therapy when combined with exercise gives the best outcomes. Spinal manipulation therapy is another great option.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations using specific devices stimulate nerves and can treat pain. Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization is another technique that stimulates the tissues in the cervical region.

Cervicogenic headaches symptoms

Man with headache

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Pain may occur in two ways. You may feel pain after a sudden neck movement.

You may get head pain when your neck remains in the same position for some time. There are other complications associated with this condition.

You may feel pain in one side of your head. Steady pain that increases with cough, sneezing, or taking deep breaths.

The attack of pain may last for hours or longer. Neck can become stiff, making it harder to move your head.

Pain may stay in one spot like the front, side, or back of the head or in your eyes.

Are cervicogenic headaches serious?

Cervicogenic headaches can be treated if diagnosed early and proper precautions are taken. However, if untreated, cervicogenic headaches can become severe.

If the pain in the back of your neck does not go away with medications, go and see a doctor. The severity depends on the type of cervicogenic headaches and the underlying neck conditions.

In rare cases cervicogenic headaches can turn into tumors. Other underlying conditions may increase the severity include hemorrhage, fracture in spine, or arteriovenous malformations.

Symptoms of severe cervicogenic headaches include nausea and vomiting, hands feeling numb, neck stiffness, confusion and disorientation.

Cervicogenic headache exercises

Yoga exercise for Cervicogenic

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Exercises can treat cervicogenic headaches at home. You can watch tutorials for these exercises or can consult a physiotherapist.

Nod you head forward with pressure while sitting and retracting the cervical. This will help in stiff neck condition.

While in supine position, facilitate deep neck flexor. Correct your bad posture and make it more straight.

Doorway pectoralis major stretch is another useful exercise. Take a small ball and perform a thoracic spine extension exercise.

Perform scapular squeezes. Make snow angels like the kids make in the snow in supine position.

Why do you get cervicogenic headaches?

There are many reasons for cervicogenic headaches. It can occur from bad postures to even from underlying spinal conditions.

If you had a neck trauma or injury in the past, straining your neck can result in cervicogenic headache. Spasms in the scalp, shoulder, or neck is another reason for cervicogenic headaches as it increases the sensitivity in those areas.

Lower pain threshold can make patients become more vulnerable to severe neck pain. In most of the cases (about 70%) C2-3 zygapophyseal joint is the main frequent source of cervicogenic headaches.

Cervicogenic headache causes

Cervicogenic headaches may be caused by many reasons. Sometimes the reason becomes undetectable.

This condition mainly arises from the vertebrae or the bones in your neck. Other than that neck joints and neck muscles can also cause cervicogenic headaches.

Type of profession is a big factor in this situation. People who have to work holding their head in an angle may develop cervicogenic headaches like carpenters, hair stylists, truck drivers, etc.

Forward head motion can cause this condition too. It occurs when people hold their head in front of their body, this puts an extra weight on your neck.

Can MRI detect cervicogenic headache?

MRI or magnetic resonance imaging cannot be fully used to detect cervicogenic headaches. It is only used to support a diagnosis but MRI does not confirm a cervicogenic headache.

It is recommended to go through other tests such as X-ray and CT scan. Combination of these three tests will help you to confirm cervicogenic headaches.

Cervical discs may or may not bulge in case of cervicogenic headaches. This bulging can be detected by MRI, but that does not confirm that the bulging is a symptom or cause of cervicogenic headache.

Cervicogenic headache vs migraine

Cervicogenic headaches are not the same as migraine headaches. While migraine headaches are associated with improper nerve impulse and neuronal conditions, cervicogenic headaches are associated with spinal conditions.

Cervicogenic headaches can mimic the pain of migraine but the underlying reasons are different but some symptoms may be similar. Migraine headaches may turn into epilectic episodes but cervicogenic headaches are not associated with epilectic conditions.

In migraine, you may see flashes of light, throbbing pain in one side of your head. In case of cervicogenic headache, stiffness of neck is observed along with reduced range of motion.

Cervicogenic headache nhs

According to NHS (National Health Service) England, cervicogenic headaches may be caused by joint and muscle pain in your neck. It becomes hard to move your head freely.

In 90% of the population headaches are very common and people suffer from headaches at any point of their lives. Among that percentage of population, about 15-20% of headaches may turn out to be cervicogenic headaches.

Symptoms include stiff neck, pain in the neck joint, trouble moving your head, restricted movement, pain in the head etc. Official documents provided by the NHS can be found online where they have mentioned some exercises you can do at your home.

Cervicogenic headache diagnosis

There are many types of headaches, so sometimes it becomes difficult to diagnose the proper headache type. You should be thorough with your symptoms to a doctor to make sure your cervicogenic headache can be diagnosed as soon as possible.

Tell your doctor if the headaches get worse over a period. Whether or not you have fever or any visible rashes, if you had a traumatic brain injury.

X-ray, CT scan, and MRI- combination of these three tests can confirm a cervicogenic headache properly. If a nerve block injection treats your headache, that means you probably have cervicogenic headache.

FAQ relating to what are cervicogenic headaches?

What is the first treatment for a cervicogenic headache?

It is said that ‘treatment starts at home’ for all kinds of conditions. For cervicogenic headaches you have a few options that you can apply in your home.

First of all, work on and improve your posture. Second, do exercise.

There are multiple exercises that you can look for online or consult a physiotherapist.

What kind of doctor treats cervicogenic headaches?

It is recommended to get more than one opinion if the pain does not stop. Physical therapists can help you with therapy, massage, and exercises.

Pain specialists who are accustomed with injections and blocks can treat cervicogenic headaches. Neurosurgeons and orthopedics are your last option if the pain worsens over time.

What mimics cervicogenic headache?

Most of the time headaches feel very similar. Parapharyngeal tumor pain can mimic the headaches of cervicogenic headaches.

Sometimes it is also found that cervicogenic headaches can mimic migraines. Other headaches that mimic cervicogenic headaches are- migraine, tension type headache, posterior fossa, Arnold-Chiari malformation, occipital neuralgia, and vascular lesions.

Are cervicogenic headaches a disability?

If you consider disabilities to be permanent and untreatable, then cervicogenic headaches can be considered a 50% disability. Cervicogenic headaches can be treated with proper diagnosis and treatment.

However, in case of chronic or severe cases, cervicogenic headaches may take months, or even years to treat. So, it is considered a 50% disability.

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