Cervicogenic headaches (CGH) are a rare type of headache affecting between 2-4 percent of the population. These headaches are considered secondary headaches because they come from a source in the neck. CGH is a disorder of the cervical spine and its bones, joints, discs, nerve roots, or soft tissues. Pain from CGH may radiate from the neck or back of the head to the front of the head and behind an eye. Typically, pain is felt on only one side of the head. Certain movements of the neck may aggravate the pain, and people with cervicogenic headaches often have reduced range of motion in their neck.
Are cervicogenic headaches migraines?
Cervicogenic headaches are not migraines or tension headaches, even though those types of headaches are sometimes associated with neck pain. It can be difficult to distinguish a difference sometimes. Migraines may have some overlapping symptoms but are rooted in the brain, not the neck. Migraines are considered primary headaches. Tension headaches are also primary headaches since they are not the result of another medical condition. Tension headaches usually affect both sides of the head.
What are the underlying causes of cervicogenic headaches?
CGH can be the result of a neck trauma such as a whiplash or a sports injury. Cervicogenic headaches may stem from a spinal fracture or tumor. The condition may also develop slowly over time due to strain on the neck muscles or joints. People in certain occupations may develop CGH symptoms due to the way their neck is positioned while they work. CGH sometimes results from osteoarthritis in the neck. Degeneration of cervical discs may compress the nerve roots in the cervical spine, causing CGH.
Symptoms of cervicogenic headaches
The pain from CGH is generally located on one side of the neck and head. The neck is stiff or has a reduced range of motion. The headache pain is steady but not throbbing or pulsating like a migraine. These headaches may last for hours or days, and there may be associated pain in the shoulder, arm, or upper back.
Diagnosis includes an extensive medical history including any spinal traumas or injuries the patient may have experienced. Imaging tests such as x-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI may reveal degeneration in the cervical spine.
Non-invasive treatments usually help. Medication may relieve pain and inflammation. Physical therapy exercises and stretches may be helpful in increasing range of motion in the neck. Spinal manipulation and massage therapy may be beneficial. However, surgery may be necessary for some patients to stabilize the spine or relieve disc compression.
Atlanta Brain and Spine Care
Cervicogenic headaches can be debilitating. It’s important to see a doctor to determine any underlying conditions that may be causing the headaches. Atlanta Brain and Spine Care physicians are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of spinal problems that may be associated with these headaches. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.