Blinding pain that forces you to hibernate in a dark room, shades drawn, worshipping the silence, can be debilitating. It interferes with your everyday activities, forces you to call in sick to work, and robs you of the simple joys of life. When the pain gets really bad, you may find yourself hanging over a toilet vomiting. Migraines pound the head, sometimes creating vertigo as well. Although most people think of migraines as a headache, some migraines are not really a pain in your head; they’re really a pain in your neck being misinterpreted as a migraine.
Cervicogenic headaches, according to the American Migraine Foundation, are headaches caused by a disorder or lesion of the cervical spine. These should not be confused with tension headaches which are caused by tense muscles in your neck which can also be a source of pain. Things like tumors, fractures, infections or rheumatoid arthritis in the upper cervical spine are often the culprits for cervicogenic headaches. Life events like whiplash or an accident can also be the root cause.
The symptoms of cervicogenic headaches often overlap with regular migraines making them easy to mistake: light and sound sensitivity, nausea, vertigo, and pounding pain are all common. They do have some unique characteristics that may give you a clue as to whether you could be suffering from something other than a normal migraine. Because cervicogenic headaches are caused by a neck problem, sufferers will often notice a reduced range of motion in their necks. Certain movements and putting pressure on specific spots can trigger a headache or make it worse. The pain generally begins in the neck or base of the head and radiates to the front of the head and behind the eyes.
Because cervicogenic headaches originate in the neck, posture issues can contribute, or even trigger, a headache. Healthline points out that people who work in industries where they are on their feet or sit a large portion of the day, may be prone to jutting their chins forward, throwing their head out of alignment. Sleeping with your head too far forward, back, or to one side can also trigger a headache. Falling asleep in a chair or slouching may all be contributing factors.
Only a doctor can give the correct diagnosis of cervicogenic migraines. If your doctor suspects your may be suffering from these, you may be asked to have an MRI, CT scan, or x-ray done. The American Migraine Foundation also states that your doctor might inject a nerve blocking agent. If the headache disappears after the injection, a positive diagnosis of cervicogenic migraine can be rendered.
Once a proper diagnosis has been reached, treatment options need to be explored. Physical therapy and exercise are the least invasive and often the best at managing the pain long-term. Massage therapy combined with chiropractic’s may also bring relief. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or prescription pain medication might be used. Nerve blocking agents can be injected to help those who have arthritis induced pain. Surgery might also be an option. Discuss what is best for you with your doctor.
Preventing triggers by improving your posture while working and sleeping will help reduce the occurrence of headaches. Try standing often if you work at a desk. Raise your computer screen to eye level so your head isn’t forced to tilt. Use a shaped pillow or rolled towel to support the neck while sleeping. A neck brace for sleeping might be in order.
If you think you may be suffering from cervicogenic headaches, make an appointment with the specialists at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care. They have the latest in technology and can perform the tests necessary to get you a proper diagnosis. Their specialists will sit down with you, discuss your options, and get you moving again.