We’ve heard the expression “a pain in the neck”. It is used to describe something that causes trouble or a source of unhappiness. But what if headaches were caused by a pain in the neck? Well…they can be! This type of headache is referred to as a cervicogenic headache due to originating in the cervical spine (neck). Almost half of the population (about 47%) suffer from headaches, and approximately 20% of them have headaches that originate from the neck.
Cervicogenic headaches are one of the many types of headaches under the International Classification of headache disorders. Based on this classification, headaches are divided into primary and secondary types of headaches and further classified into classes. These classes to name a few are: migraines, cluster headaches, rebound, tension-type, and there are even more severe type headaches due to injuries or other factors. But were not going to go into detail on every headache type, that would take too long!
Cervicogenic headaches originate in the spine and refer pain into the head. These headaches are a result of sustained pressure or stress on the muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves that originate from the cervical spine.
Symptoms that are associated with cervicogenic headaches:
- Dull headache at the base of the skull or neck
- Neck stiffness with motion
- Unilateral or bilateral pain in the back of head, neck or temples
- Pain and stiffness with activities or specific neck positions such as computer users, sleeping or poor posture
- Tightness or tenderness of neck, shoulder or pectoral muscles
What are some of the causes for cervicogenic headaches? Well as stated before there is strain on the structures that originate from the cervical vertebrae. When these structures are held in prolonged positions this creates stress and strain to the muscles and surrounding soft tissue resulting in dysfunction of the cervical vertebrae, which causes the cervicogenic headache. An example would be poor posture when working on the computer.
Some of the professions that can result in these specific types of headaches are professions that are mainly computer based, painters, hairdressers and carpenters. Other risk factors are poor posture for long periods of time that cause strain to the surrounding structures in the neck (i.e. sleeping in a chair), using a computer or cell phone for hours without proper support to the neck, or trauma to the neck causing injury to the muscles and soft tissue in the neck (i.e. whiplash).
- Chiropractors locate areas in the spine that are not moving properly and treat these areas to eliminate the dysfunction on the surrounding structures that cause the headaches.
- Physical therapists incorporate exercises to strengthen weak muscles and tissues to promote proper function and proper posture.
- Massage therapists work on tight muscles that are overworking due to the weaker muscles
There are additional ways to treat headaches but these treatments locate the areas in the cervical spine to treat specifically cervicogenic headaches due to their cause originating from the spine and surroundings structures.