What is it?
Cervicogenic headaches are headaches that originate from the upper neck (upper cervical spine). The pain is felt at the head, however, the dysfunction and cause of the pain is in the neck. Typically, these headaches come from dysfunction of the upper three vertebrae of your spine, which is referred to as the upper cervical spine.
Specific movements and positions can cause irritation or compression of the structures and nerves, which leads to cervicogenic headaches. This is due to the nerves of the upper cervical spine merging with the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation of the head and face.
How does it happen?
These types of headaches can be caused by a variety of activities that put too much stress in the upper neck. The cause can be traumatic, such as whiplash (see previous blog post) from a car accident, or more commonly a gradual build-up of stress with poor posture over time(from being in front of your computer or while studying).
What are the signs and symptoms?
- Headache that feels like constant dull ache on one or both sides of the head and face
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Pain comes on during or after specific head movement
How long does it last for?
Typically, with appropriate treatment from a health care professional, ushc as a physiotherapist or structural chiropractor, cervicogenic headache cases will resolve within 1-2 weeks. However, more complex cases may take weeks to months for complete resolution of symptoms.
The outcome and resolution depends on the severity of the dysfunction, your ability to get appropriate treatment and modify/avoid activities that aggravate it.
How do you treat it?
Seeing as posture is the most significant contributing factor to cervicogenic headaches, you should aim to improve posture with exercise and treatment. An individualized exercise and treatment plan will be most effective when treating cervicogenic headaches. A qualified structural chiropractor can assess your specific posture and condition to develop a personalized treatment and exercise plan best suited for you.
In our office, the structural chiropractors take an individualized approach utilizing a variety of techniques, including one that focuses on the specific problem area in the upper cervical spine.
Here are 3 exercises that may help with cervicogenic headaches. DO NOT perform these if they produce pain or unusual sensations (consult with a health care professional).
- Keeping a neutral spine and using your index finger as a guide on your chin, tuck your chin towards your chest (like you’re trying to make a double chin)
- Hold for 5 minutes
- Repeat this 10 times, 3 times a day
- With your hands at your sides and your palms facing forward, bring your shoulder blades down and pinch them together
- Hold for 10 seconds
- Repeat this 5 times, 3 times a day
Neck flexor strengthening
- Lie face up on the edge of your bed with your head hanging off the edge
- Flex your head forward until it’s in neutral position and hold for 5 seconds
- Return to starting position
- Repeat this 8 times, 3 times a day
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