Cervicogenic headaches are a type of headache disorder concerning neck-related issues. Although not all headaches with neck pain are cervicogenic headaches, it is important to determine if the pain in your neck is a symptom of the headache or if the pain is caused by the neck.
A disorder in the cervical spine, particularly an irritation in the vertebrae closest to the skull (C1, C2, and C3) causes cervicogenic headaches. The following neck conditions can cause cervicogenic headaches:
- Neck injuries (trauma or strain)
- Neck, scalp, shoulder muscle spasms
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cervical spine spondylosis
Cervicogenic headaches can exhibit the following symptoms similar to migraine symptoms:
- Light and or sound sensitivity
- Vomiting and nausea
- Bloodshot eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Pain in the arm
- Pain in the ears and eye
- Auditory changes
- Ringing in ears
- Pain in the eyes
- Pain caused by coughing, sneezing, and neck movements
- Stiffness of the neck
- One-sided head pain radiating from the neck
Because migraine symptoms tend to be somewhat similar to CGH symptoms, it is important to remember that CGH, unlike migraine, can be linked to muscle, nerve, and bone disorders within the neck. Typically, people with cervicogenic headaches experience a limited range of motion in the neck and are less likely to exhibit vomiting, nausea, and light and or sound sensitivity. Those with CGH also do not respond with migraine treatments such as ergotamine, triptans, and indomethacin.
Seek medical care to diagnose and treat cervicogenic headaches. Here are some treatment options that may help:
1. Physical Therapy
This is the most successful therapy for treating cervicogenic headaches. Physical therapy combined with exercise has shown to have positive outcomes. Strengthening exercises for your neck, shoulders, and upper back is very helpful.
Some injections may help in those with cervicogenic headaches:
- Cervical epidural steroids – Steroids are injected in the epidural space within the neck.
- Occipital nerve block – Using steroids and pain medication, this is injected on the back of the neck on the nerves that contribute to the headache and neck pain.
- Trigger point injections – A trigger point is a painful area caused by a muscle that is spasmed. This trigger point can be injected with pain medication to provide relief.
Discuss risks and benefits with your healthcare provider if injection therapy is the right treatment for you.
Some medications may help alleviate the pain such as tricyclic antidepressants, muscle relaxants, antiepileptic drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Make sure to discuss with your healthcare provider all the medications you are taking to make sure it does not have any unwanted interactions.
4. Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful for those with headache disorders such as migraines and cervicogenic headaches. CBT can:
- Decrease frequency and severity of attacks
- Decrease stress levels and improve the quality of life
- Decrease the need to take medications
- Develop coping strategies to manage pain
- Lowered disability related to pain
Although there is not much research on acupuncture for cervicogenic headaches, acupuncture for tension-type headaches seems to show benefits. Acupuncture can be a low-risk therapy.
6. Self-Care practices
Even when you’re under the care of a healthcare provider for treating cervicogenic headaches, there are some things you can personally do to help relieve symptoms:
- Relaxation techniques – Deep breathing, guided imagery, and mindfulness all have positive effects on your health and stress levels.
- Essential oils – Essential oils such as mint and lavender may help relieve symptoms such as nausea, pain, and anxiety.
- Good pillow – Find a good pillow that supports your head and neck to alleviate neck pain and get better sleep.
- Correction of posture – Good posture can help prevent and relieve pain. Maintaining good posture can have an effect on how our body functions.
It is worth it to see a healthcare provider to help you diagnose and treat your underlying neck pain.
To learn more on migraines and headaches, click HERE.
Adapted from MigraineAgain.com.