The main symptoms of a cervicogenic headache are a combination of one-sided pain, diffuse shoulder and/or arm pain on the same side.

Furthermore, those with cervicogenic headaches may also experience:

  • Aggravation of pain with certain head/neck movements
  • Often associated with neck pain
  • Increased tightness and pain around musculature of the neck and upper shoulders
  • Lack of symptoms of nausea, vomiting, photophobia (light sensitivity)
  • Dizziness may be present
How can my neck cause a Headache?

Cervicogenic headaches arise from the Atlanta-occipital region (base of the skull) and upper cervical vertebra (joints at the top of the back of the neck). The top 3 spinal nerves (C1, C2, and C3) and the trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve 5) join onto the spinal cord in the same location. So if you experience pain in the neck the brain can misinterpret this as pain over the skull (i.e. a headache). This is what we call referred pain, as the source of the pain is different from where the individual may feel their pain.

In essence, your neck joints can cause a headache or pain if they are not operating optimally. The common issues we see in the clinic are: - Altered motor control of the joints of the neck: either the neck muscles can be over- bracing or under-active. - Neck joints are locked into an abnormal position: e.g. locked facet joint or poor posture.

This can be treated successfully conservatively with Sports Chiropractic or Physiotherapy. Usually, treatment involves manual therapy techniques such as specific mobilisation involving C2/3 vertebrae, deep tissue work of associated musculature of the neck and upper shoulders, dry needling and a specific graded strengthening exercise program.

In summary, our top 5 tips for headache sufferers are:
  1. Get it assessed by a practitioner (Chiro/Physio)
    Headaches commonly arise from the top 3 joints of your spine, with a clear assessment, this can be treated with manual therapy and strengthening programs at home.
  2. Self mobilisations
    Certain pressure points in the upper joints of your neck can help decrease the headache - As guided by your practitioner.
  3. Simple home exercise
    A simple place to start is with chin retractions with a pillow on the wall - 20-sec hold x 5.
  4. Keep actively moving
    It is more about having the option to vary your movement. Even if you sit perfectly all day, you are still sitting and that is still detrimental. How you sit is not as important as making sure you simply move more.
  5. Trial heat
    You may also want to ask your doctor about magnesium to help relax muscle tension.