Cervicogenic headache is a secondary headache with the primary cause being a pathology in the neck. This means a problem in the neck is causing a headache as a symptom.
The cervicogenic headache typically starts from the back of neck/back, travels up to the front of the head. It usually is on one side of the head. And therefore, this type of headache is a referred pain to the head.
A term cervicogenic headache often is misused as it does not mean headache due to migraine, or a tension headache. A person suffering with cervicogenic headache usually has a history or an ongoing cervical problem.
A cervical problem can range from just having a soft tissue tightness, to neck tumor. A person with cervical disc abnormalities, or a disorder in a cervical bone can also have a cervicogenic headache.
Signs and Symptoms :
Along with a headache, there are some typical signs that a patient presents with. These signs make this headache different from the regular headache or to that from a migraine.
- Reduced range of motion of cervical spine
- Certain movement of cervical spine usually aggravates the pain
- Headache is usually on one side of the head (locked headache)
- Pain usually radiates from the side of neck/back to up in the head and front of the head – usually on one side.
- A pressure applied to certain spot on the cervical spine usually aggravates the pain
- Patient usually have on going cervical pathology
- Patient may complain of pain behind the eye
- Neck pain may or may not be present
How to diagnose a Cervicogenic headache?
As I mentioned earlier, cervicogenic headaches are easy to misdiagnose.
International Classification of Headache (ICH) has a specific criteria to diagnose this kind of headache.
Nerve blocks usually work best in confirming the diagnoses as well as providing some pain relief to the patients who are suffering with this type of headache.
How to treat Cervicogenic Headache?
Treatment of this headache usually involves treating the primary cause in the neck. Since this is a secondary pain/ referred pain, NSAIDS or analgesics will temporarily cease the pain but will not cure it.
Additionally, since it is difficult to have accurate diagnosis, it is important to seek professional help. A combination approach of general physician, orthopedic surgeon and neurologist is best for treatment with cervicogenic headache.
Physical therapy along with pain specialists provide the best outcomes in treatment of cervicogenic headache. Physical therapists can help to improve range of motion and strength of cervical muscle and also to cease the pain with pain relieving techniques.