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Neck-related (Cervicogenic) Headache

What are Neck-Related Headaches?

The most common types of neck-related headaches (also known as ‘cervicogenic’ headache) include tension-type headache, migraine, and headaches secondary to a disorder in one of the top three or four joints in the neck, these types of headaches can persist for many years. This type of headache usually stays on one side unlike other headaches and mild to moderate intensity accompanied with neck pain. This pain usually begins in the neck and spreads to a headache.

What causes cervicogenic headache?

A Cervicogenic headache can be caused by:

  • Excessive strain due to poor working postures
  • Joints may be injured by trauma via sports or car crash
  • Osteoarthritis in older age groups

The pain caused by Cervicogenic headaches can:

  • Make neck movements tender and restricted
  • Cause pain to become worse by sitting or working for a long time in one posture
  •  Cause light-headedness, unsteadiness or visual disturbances.

How do I know if I have cervicogenic headache?

It is often hard to decipher which type of headache you have as symptoms for different types of headache as quite similar. It is important to receive the correct diagnosis so that it can be treated correctly. GP, neurologists and physiotherapists can help correctly diagnosis your headache.

In cervicogenic headache, the neck pain starts and then spreads into the head which is caused by the neck. Neck movements are also stiff and painful in cervicogenic headache.

How can treatment methods used by physiotherapists help with neck-related (cervicogenic) headache?

To correctly treat neck-related headaches, your physiotherapist will need to complete a full examination to determine if the headache symptoms fit the pattern for cervicogenic headache and if there are problems with the joints and muscles. If the pain is coming from the neck, physiotherapy will be the best management. If the headache is another type of primary treatment will be with your GP and possible physiotherapy methods. People who have problems with there neck that are independent to their headache, your physiotherapist may offer assist treatment with your GP.

Physiotherapists can offer a variety of treatments methods to manage a cervicogenic headache including:

  • Education, Advice and Assurance – Your physiotherapist will help you understand the nature of your headache and give you advice of how to take care of your neck.
  • Manual Therapy – This can help reduce symptoms
  • Exercise – Your physiotherapist may prescribe you with exercises that help:
  • ease pain
  • improve posture and postural habits
  • improve movement and flexibility of the neck
  • train the supporting muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle
  • train strength and endurance of the neck muscles
  • train balance, movement accuracy, as well as head and eye movement control when light-headedness or unsteadiness are symptoms of the headache disorder.
  • Advice for work and home – Your physiotherapist will help you develop best work, activity and lifestyle habits to relieve unnecessary strain on the neck. 
  • Self-management program – Your physiotherapist will prescribe you with a personalised plan that will allow you to prevent recurrent headaches. This may include exercises and lifestyle changes.

What can I do at home?

It is important to listen to the advice of your physiotherapist and being aware of positions that cause your neck pain. It is vital that you avoid these positions so avoiding prolonged sitting and slouched postures at work or at home will help prevent pain. Regularly sit upright and tall, and hold the posture for 10 seconds, to relieve strain on joints and muscles. Exercises prescribed to you should be completed as often as your physiotherapist has prescribed.

How long will my recovery be?

Your recovery time will vary although clinical trials believe that pain can be relieved within 2–6 weeks of beginning management. Whilst other people may take longer which usually depends on the nature of your neck disorder.

If you would like to find out more please call us or book an appointment here.

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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.