Cervicogenic Headaches – A Real Pain in the Neck.
Headaches are one of the most common ailments in our modern society. From tension and stress to overwork, over 90% of us will suffer with a headache in our lifetime requiring time away from work or a visit to the doctor.
Fortunately, for many of us, these headaches will only be temporary. But for others, their headaches are painful, recurring and affect their daily lives. These are referred to as chronic headaches and include such headaches as a “tension headache” and a “migraine”. But many of us are less familiar with a type of chronic headache known as “cervicogenic headache”. Although the word sounds confusing, it essentially means “a headache that is originating in the neck”. Around 15% of chronic headaches may in fact be classified as cervicogenic.
So what are the symptoms of this headache? Basically, a cervicogenic headache is a unilateral headache meaning that it occurs on one side of the head. Oftentimes, it originates in the neck or base of the skull and radiates to the top and side of the head and/or behind the eye on the same side. Peope describe acute tenderness at the base of thir skull where their n
eck muscles attach. Their headache is often made worse by certain neck movements such as shoulder checking and may be provoked by poor posture. For this reason, this type of headache is often seen in desk workers who may sit for prolonged periods in awkward positions. The headache may last from minutes to several ho
urs. In severe cases, the headache can persist for days.
Sufferers of cervicogenic headaches will often report 1-3 attacks a week and the condition is about twice as common in women. Many sufferers will also have a history of neck trauma such as whiplash. It has been found that sufferers of cervicogenic headaches have stiffness and dysfunction in the upper joints of their neck near the head. Furthermore, it has been shown that the deep stabilizing muscles of their neck are often weak and disused. As a result, they tend to overuse other muscles which become tense and even develop spasm.
A physiotherapist can assist with cervicogenic headaches by applying techniques to relax muscular tension, increase the mobility of the neck joints and teach proper posture. There are specific stabilizing exercises for the deep muscles of the neck which can also be taught. An ergonomic evaluation of your workstation or home computer (which looks at how you are positioned a
t your desk) can also be of great assistance.