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Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches are headaches that come from the neck i.e. cervical = neck + genic = arising from. They are a common source of long lasting headaches that may last hours to week in duration.

Cervicogenic headaches stem from the upper cervical spine where the base of the skull meets the neck at C1, C2 and C3. The muscles and joints in this area can become stiff and refer pain up into the head. Additionally the nerves that run through this area can become more sensitive adding to the issue.

Symptoms of cervicogenic headaches are:

  • Headache location is most common in the the back of the head, side of the head or forehead (but can be elsewhere). These headaches can be localised or in a wider area.

  • Neck stiffness and or neck pain.

  • Upper back stiffness/ pain.

  • Headaches aggravated by neck movements such as looking over your shoulder or looking up/ down.

  • Headaches that are brought on by prolonged head positions such as reading or computer work,

They can be caused from a trauma such as whiplash or a blow to the head. They can also start without an incident due to a gradual increase in pressure and stiffness in the muscles and joints of the neck.

How can Physiotherapy help?

  • A thorough history and examination to establish what joints and muscles are contributing to your headaches.

  • Manual therapy to help the facet joints (joints between the vertebrae) loosen up.

  • Massage and dry needling to treat tight muscles.

  • Home based exercises for long term self management.

  • A plan for safe return to sport and exercise.

It is important to note that headaches have many sources and finding the source of your headaches should only be done by an experienced health professional.

If you experience sudden onset very intense headaches that may be accompanied by loss of vision, hearing, sensation, bowel/ bladder symptoms or paralysis seek medical immediately at your nearest hospital.

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