Cervicogenic Headaches

By Erin Reidman – CC’s Staff

Cervicogenic Headache

Cervicogenic, sounds fancy doesn’t it? As fancy as the name sounds, the reality of a cervicogenic is anything but desirable. Cervicogenic headaches are common, accounting for roughly 15-20% of headaches. Fortunately, they respond well to therapy interventions.

Symptoms: Pain that is localized in the neck and occiput (base of skull), which can spread to other areas in the head. Pain is usually one sided. Pain is precipitated or aggravated by specific neck movements or sustained postures (long hours sitting at a desk, driving, etc.) Also accompanied by one of the following: neck stiffness and decrease in range of motion, changes in neck muscle tone, and neck muscle tenderness. People often describe this pain as a ramhorn pattern.

The areas of dysfunction that causes a cervicogenic headache are within the upper cervical spine (C1-3). Dysfunction can be within the joint segment, associated muscles, tendons, or ligaments. The interesting part is that the reason a headache results stems from some confusion. The trigeminocervical nucleus is a region in the upper cervical spine where sensory nerves of the trigeminal nerve (face, jaw, teeth) interact with sensory nerves of the upper cervical roots. Painful sensations between the neck and the trigeminal nerve of the face and head can converge as a result of their proximity to this nucleus. Basically, there is some confusion within the brain and pain that initiates in the back of the skull and refers upward can be triggered by various dysfunctions within this area of the spine. Confusing as that may be, the good news is treatment is simple.

Treatment involves ridding the dysfunction within the upper cervical spine segments. This is often and most effectively achieved through joint manipulation and a simple home exercise program to increase the mobility of those segments. Multiple studies have shown success with this intervention and patients often have full relief of symptoms within 4-6 sessions. Associated soft tissue dysfunction and muscular weakness will also be addressed to optimize overall movement patterns, posture, and biomechanics with mobility to prevent future issues.

Cervicogenic headaches can be debilitating and are a common source of headaches. There really is no reason to suffer with a cervicogenic headache. Treatment is successful and straightforward and preventative measures are simple to incorporate.

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A randomized controlled trial of exercise and manipulative therapy for cervicogenic headache.Jull G1, Trott P, Potter H, Zito G, Niere K, Shirley D, Emberson J, Marschner I, Richardson C.

Front Neurol. 2016; 7: 40.
Published online 2016 Mar 21. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2016.00040
PMCID: PMC4800981
PMID: 27047446
Mobilization and Manipulation of the Cervical Spine in Patients with Cervicogenic Headache: Any Scientific Evidence?
Jodan D. Garcia,1,* Stephen Arnold,1 Kylie Tetley,1 Kiel Voight,1 and Rachael Anne Frank1


Post Author: Erin Reidman

Erin is a DPT, wife, and mom of two wild boys. When not at work, you can find Erin teaching fitness classes at the YMCA or daydreaming of the next mountain biking/rock climbing adventure with her main squeeze


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