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Cervicogenic Headache: A pain in the neck!

What are they?

A Cervico-genic headache (CGH) is a headache that literally comes from your neck! Neck joints can cause neck headache or pain if they are either too stiff or too loose. They can also cause pain if unsupported by weak muscles or are in an abnormal joint position. (eg. locked facet joint or poor posture.) Other structures such as muscles, nerves & ligaments can also be the cause.

What are the symptoms of a CGH?

A cervicogenic headache presents as a steady, non-throbbing pain at the back and base of the skull. Sometimes pain can  extend downward into the neck and between the shoulder blades. Pain may be felt behind the brow and forehead, even though the problem originates from the cervical spine.

You may also experience:

  • Stiff neck

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Blurred vision

  • Sensitivity to light or sound

  • Pain in one or both arms

Physiotherapy Management of CGH

Physio Management will firstly involve a thorough assessment, This includes taking a history, behaviour of symptoms and aggravating factors that contribute to the headache.

Objective assessments will include:

  • Neck and Thoracic ROM Assessment.

  • Palpation (touch) of soft tissues and joints to locate the source of the pain.

Treatment will usually involve a combination of joint mobilisations, massage, dry needling, posture re-education and exercise prescription.

  • Often a short course of anti-inflammatories/paracetamol can be helpful, as well as the use of a heat pack/cream

Common Exercises that help if you have CGHs

  • Spikey ball- along the base of the skull, upper back and in the neck muscles that support the spine

  • Chin tucks to help strengthen the muscles at the front of the neck

  • Stretches such as gently pulling your ear to your shoulder and holding for 30 seconds each side

  • Foam roller to loosen the thoracic spine
  • Clinical Exercise!

Have a read through some previous blogs here:

Neck Strengthening Exercises

Thoracic Mobility exercises

Cervicogenic headaches are not something you should put up with. Book in for an assessment with one of the physios- Tanya has a keen interest in necks!

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