What is cervicogenic headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches (CGH) is a secondary headache that occurs due to a physical or neurologic condition that originally occurred. When experiencing cervicogenic headaches you will feel pain that is referred from a direct source in the neck area leading up to the head. The pain that is commonly felt is a continuous ache or dull painful sensation and sometimes the feeling can increase. Majority of the time cervicogenic headaches symptoms are side-locked, meaning the headaches occur on only one side of the neck, head and/or face.

Common effects that people may feel with cervicogenic headaches:
  • Pain in the back of the neck and radiating alongside the forehead, around the eye, temple and ear
  • Pain that radiates along the shoulder and arm
  • Hypomobility, reduced flexibility of the neck
  • Swelling of the eyes and blurriness of vision on the affected side in some particular cases
  • Usually the pain is felt only on the one side but in uncommon cases both sides may be affected

What can physiotherapy do to help with cervicogenic headaches?

With cervicogenic headaches physiotherapy is advised to be the first line of treatment. Depending on the underlying cause of the cervicogenic headaches the long-term outlook may vary. However, once diagnosed the symptoms can be managed successfully with effective treatment. Upon completion of the initial assessment, which involves performing a variety of tests. The physiotherapist will determine an individualized treatment plan, including effective therapeutic exercises and stretches. The physiotherapist may perform:

  • Cervical spine mobilization and manipulation. This is a hands-on technique directed to tight structures on the area of the neck. Manual therapy enables restoration of normal mechanics to the neck and can aid in alleviating headaches.
  • Passive stretching and soft tissue techniques. This can help to relax the painful area that have become very tight.
  • Dry needling can be an ideal technique. It is performed by physiotherapists who have completed a certification. Dry needling involves very thin needles placed in specific areas, in order to provide relief to tight muscles.

Visual diagram to show common painful areas with cervicogenic headaches

Visual diagram to show common painful areas with cervicogenic headaches

Developing and Sustaining Interprofessional health Care: Optimizing PATIENTS/CLIENTS, organizational, and system outcomes. Developing and Sustaining Interprofessional Health Care: Optimizing patients/clients, organizational, and system outcomes | Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://rnao.ca/bpg/guidelines/interprofessional-team-work-healthcare.

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