What is Cervicogenic Headache?
The International Classification of Headache Disorders, considers Cervicogenic Headache to be a secondary headache disorder. This means that the head pain and symptoms, originate from somewhere other than the head. In this case, dysfunctional structures in the neck, such as; muscles, joints, discs or even nerves can be the cause of headache. Through afferent nerves from the neck to the brainstem, these structures can create pain pathways to the head and face .
Cervicogenic Headache symptoms
Pain from Cervicogenic Headache is generally mild to moderate, often unilateral and starts at the neck before travelling to the head or face. The pain will be most focal around the neck and there should be a reduced range of movement in the neck. It isn’t uncommon for people with Cervicogenic Headache to also experience nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms include; dizziness, tinnitus, difficulty concentrating, and depression .
What is the cause of Cervicogenic Headache?
Injury or dysfunction at the neck, arising from falls, car accidents or any type of whiplash injury can cause pain to be referred from the neck to the head. However, many Cervicogenic Headache sufferers have never experienced any trauma like this, in these cases; it is likely that the strain from adopting poor postures is the key contributor . Prolonged periods of time with your head forward, for example, will put excessive stress on structures in your neck like; your muscles, joints, discs and nerves. These strained structures, can refer pain to the head, through their connection to the brainstem, which is located in the upper cervical spine. The neck can also be incidentally strained from occupational tasks like; looking to the ceiling as a painter or always looking at a computer screen to your right. Over time, these tasks can cause enough strain to cause a cervicogenic headache.
The Atlanto-occipital Joint (O-C1), the Atanto-axial joint (C1/2) and C2/3 are the joints often responsible for cervicogenic headache. The strained structures will stimulate afferent nerves that travel to the brainstem or, more specifically, the Trigemino-Cervical Nucleus . In the case of Cervicogenic Headache, these nerves will enter the spine in these top 3 joints of the neck. From here, this information is perceived as pain, and is referred to the head or face.
Modern research suggests that these upper cervical spine problems can result in a sensitised brainstem. It is this sensitised brainstem that is then responsible for Cervicogenic Headache and even migraines .
I’ve tried it all, is there anything else that can help me?
At The Headache or Migraine Clinic, we utilise the most modern research and techniques to assess and treat your headaches. Unfortunately, not every headache practitioner is keeping up with the changes in research, which means they aren’t looking for the actual cause of your Cervicogenic Headache. We thoroughly examine your upper cervical spine and your brainstem to determine if they are, in fact, the cause of your headaches and to what severity your brainstem is sensitised. Once we have determined that we can help, we start immediately, with treatment designed to de-sensitize your brainstem and treat the cause of your Cervicogenic Headaches.
We expect that improvement will be seen in the first 5 sessions, as it is with 85-90% of our patients. At The Headache and Migraine Clinic, we don’t aim to give you false hope. If we determine that your neck or brainstem are not the cause of your headaches, we will let you know in session one, and refer you on to whoever we feel will help you best. The best part is, that our treatment method is gentle, non-invasive and medication free!