Cervicogenic Headache Exercises, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Cervicogenic Headaches Exercises, Treatment And Symptoms

If you have ever experienced a headache that seems to start in your neck and then spread to your head and eyes, you might be dealing with a cervicogenic headache. Cervicogenic headaches are one of the 14 headaches identified by the experts in the International Headache Society.

What Are Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches are also known as secondary headaches. This means that there is an underlying physical or medical condition that is causing the pain. As the name suggests, the pain source of cervicogenic headaches originate in the cervical spine.

As cervicogenic headaches are secondary headaches, they are differentiated by primary headaches, like tension headaches, cluster headaches, and sex headaches.

What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches are often caused by an underlying problem in your neck or cervical spine. Causes for cervicogenic headaches can include:

  • Shoulder/neck trauma injury
  • Fracture, dislocation, a whiplash injury, and so on
  • Sometimes, the cause of cervicogenic headaches can be traced to infections, rheumatoid arthritis/osteoarthritis or even cancer.

What Do Cervicogenic Headaches Feel Like?

Cervicogenic headaches usually feel like unilateral pain that starts in the neck and is referred from bony structures or soft tissues of the neck. Sometimes, cervicogenic headaches may feel like a dull pain or ache, but the pain may intensify.

How Long Can A Cervicogenic Headache Last?

Cervicogenic headaches usually last for hours, though cervicogenic headaches can also last up to days. The longer it takes for the root neck/head pain source to be identified and treated, the longer cervicogenic headaches can last.

What Are Some Common Cervicogenic Headache Symptoms?

Here are some common cervicogenic headaches symptoms:

  • Pain at the back of your head that can spread to the top of your skull and even your forehead or temple
  • Pain or discomfort behind your eyes, making it hard to concentrate or focus
  • Certain posture movements of your neck or pressure on certain spots can make your cervicogenic headache and neck pain worse
  • Another common cervicogenic headache symptom is a one-sided pain that radiates from the back of your head to the front or behind your eye. This means you may feel the pain of a cervicogenic headache on one side of your face or neck
  • Reduced flexibility in the neck or shoulder

The symptoms of cervicogenic headache can also be similar to migraine symptoms, such as sensitivity to light, and so on. It is also important to distinguish between cervicogenic headaches and spinal headaches even though the root cause is spinal-related.

Cervicogenic Headaches Treatment

Experts have recommended physical therapy as the first form of treatment. Research has also shown that manipulative therapy and therapeutic exercises are effective in treating the symptoms of cervicogenic headache.

This is because manipulative maneuvers stimulate your neural inhibitory systems at different levels in the spinal cord and activate descending inhibitory pathways. However, do note that the initial stretching exercises and cervicogenic headache treatment may cause some pain but that’s normal.

Your doctor may recommend nerve blocks as a form of cervicogenic headache treatment since it’s been shown to provide relief. If you think you might have a cervicogenic headache, it’s important to see a doctor who can rule out other primary or secondary causes of headaches. If numbing the cervical structures provides relief from your headache, it confirms the diagnosis of cervicogenic headache.

Cervicogenic headache treatments vary depending on the underlying cause. Abortive migraine medications and avoidance of activities that aggravate your symptoms are also important.

While cervicogenic headaches can resemble migraine attack symptoms, the pain source is not neurological. Hence, migraine medications like anti-CGRP inhibitors, migraine cocktails will not treat cervicogenic headaches.

Cervicogenic Headache Treatment At Home

One way you can get rid of cervicogenic headaches is to try cervicogenic headache treatments at home, such as cervicogenic headache exercises. While engaging a physical therapist is helpful, you may not have the time or budget for that. You can try these cervicogenic exercises at home, as and when you like. Hence, you may want to try cervicogenic exercises at home to get rid of cervicogenic headaches.

Cervicogenic Headache Exercises

Some easy cervicogenic headache exercises suggested by physical therapy experts that you can try include:

  • Neck stretches: Sit or stand up straight and gently tilt your head to one side, trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then repeat on the other side. You can also do this cervicogenic exercise by tilting your head forward and backward. This exercise for cervicogenic heads can help provide relief as it strengthens the neck muscles.
  • Shoulder shrugs: Raise your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for a few seconds before lowering them back down. Repeat 10 times.
  • Chin tucks: Sit up straight and pull your chin back, as if you’re making a double chin. Hold for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat 10 times. This is a very simple exercise recommended by the experts at AmeriCare Physical Therapy as it helps strengthen posture and align the neck, head and shoulder posture
  • Scapular retraction: This exercise can help cervicogenic headaches by strengthening the upper back Relax your shoulder top. Firstly, try and imagine that there is a ball located between your shoulder blades. Pinch your shoulder blades together to squeeze the imaginary ball. If it helps, try and push your shoulder blades as close to each other as possible.
  • Trapezius stretching: This cervicogenic headache exercise helps to loosen the upper trapezius muscles and make it less stiff. Stand or sitting upright. Next, bring your left ear down to your left shoulder. Do not let your left shoulder hike up to meet the ear and make sure the right shoulder is not raised either. Staying in this position, take the left hand and place it over the top of the right side of the head. Gently pull the head to the left, and you should feel a stretch along the right shoulder and neck. Hold this position for 30 seconds and then return to mid-line. Repeat this exercise on the other side. Repeat 2-3 times on each side
  • Posture exercises: Poor posture can contribute to cervicogenic headaches, so it’s important to work on improving your posture. One way to do this is to sit up straight and pull your shoulders back and down, as if you’re trying to make your shoulder blades touch.

If you want to play safe, you can look at engaging an expert in physical therapy to conduct these exercises for cervicogenic headaches.

You should also choose the right migraine pillow so that you can have a good night sleep. Some people may find that sleep disorders like sleep apnea may aggravate their sleep, and hence the headache. This often results in fatigue.

An expert tip: Make sure you conduct these cervicogenic exercises at home slowly and gently! If you conduct these stretching exercises too quickly or forcefully, you may aggravate the cervicogenic headache symptoms. Slow and steady wins the race!

Best Medicine For Cervicogenic Headaches

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDs likeaspirin or ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, and other pain relievers may ease the pain. Some of these medications are used to treat tension headaches too. Nerve blockers can also temporarily relieve pain. However, cervicogenic headache medicine should work alongside cervicogenic exercise or physical therapy.

Best Sleeping Posture For Cervicogenic Headaches

The best sleeping posture for cervicogenic headache is the neutral position. This simply means sleeping on the spine in a neutral position. If you are a side sleeper, remember to sleep with a relatively firm, non-feather pillow that keeps your neck aligned with the rest of your spine.

Also, using a migraine pillow might be helpful for better sleep posture too,

Cervicogenic Headache Massages

Cervicogenic headaches can be debilitating, but they can be managed with proper diagnosis and treatment. If you suspect that you have a cervicogenic headache, make sure to see a doctor to rule out other causes. Treatment may include nerve blocks, medications, physical therapy, massaging pressure points, and exercise. Remember to try some of the exercises listed above to help alleviate your symptoms and prevent future headaches.

Dealing With Cervicogenic Headaches

To track your symptoms more efficiently, start recording them on the Migraine Buddy app today! From cervicogenic headaches to migraine attacks, Migraine Buddy can help you track the duration, severity, time and place of your headaches and slowly help you build a pool of information that you and your medical advisor can use to find the best treatment plan for you.

(This article was written by Farah Masud, one of our amazing #MBvolunteers. You can connect with her here. If you feel inspired by her article, and would like to contribute, join us as a volunteer now!)

Jenny from Migraine Buddy
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