Cervicogenic headache is the term used to describe a headache that is caused by dysfunction in the neck. Overall, between 14-17.8% of patients with frequent headaches are believed to suffer from headaches of this nature.
The following is a list of clinical characteristics common among those struggling with cervicogenic headaches:
- Unilateral (one-sided) head or face pain (rarely is it on both sides).
- Pain is localized or stays in one spot, usually the back of the head, frontal, temporal (side), or orbital (eye) regions.
- Moderate-to-severe pain intensity.
- Intermittent attacks of pain that can last for hours or even days.
- Pain is usually deep and non-throbbing, unless migraines occur at the same time.
- Head pain is triggered by neck movement, sustained awkward head postures, applying deep pressure to the base of the skull or upper neck region, and/or taking a deep breath, cough or sneeze can trigger head pain.
- Limited neck motion with stiffness.
A 2007 study (Funct Neurol 2007;22:145; Drottning M, Staff PH, Sjaastad O) looked at causes of cervicogenic headaches, specifically whiplash injuries of the neck. In this study, 587 whiplash patients were followed over a six-year period. About 8% of the whiplash sufferers developed a cervicogenic headache within six weeks of the initial trauma and 35% of these patients were still suffering six years later. For a detailed discussion about how whiplash trauma can result in cervicogenic headaches, see Whiplash Injury and Cervicogenic Headache.
If you suffer from headaches and believe yours may originate from a musculoskeletal issue in your neck, a doctor of chiropractic can perform a comprehensive examination of your spine to see if sprains are present in either your cervical or thoracic joints and he or she will also review whether you’ve suffered a past trauma that could have affected the posture and mobility of these delicate spinal structures.
For more on how chiropractic care can benefit the headache patient, see Headaches: How Does Chiropractic Help?