What are Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches are a type of headache that is caused by problems in the neck or cervical spine. These headaches typically begin in the neck and radiate up to the head.


Because cervicogenic headaches arise from problems in the neck, different conditions can trigger this type of pain. These include degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis, a prolapsed disc in the neck, or a whiplash injury. Falling down or playing sports can also cause injury to the neck and trigger these headaches.

Cervicogenic headaches may also occur due to your posture while sitting or standing at work. If you’re a driver, carpenter, hairstylist, or someone who sits at a desk, you may unknowingly push your chin forward which moves your head out in front of your body. This is called cervical protraction. Sitting or standing in this position for long periods of time can put pressure or stress on the neck and base of the skull, triggering a cervicogenic headache.

Falling asleep in an awkward position (such as with your head too far to the front or back, or off to one side) can also cause these types of headaches. This can happen if you sleep in a chair or while sitting up in bed. A compressed or pinched nerve in or near the neck is another cause of cervicogenic headaches.

The common locations of headache that cervicogenic headaches can cause.

Symptoms and Signs

In addition to a throbbing head pain, symptoms of a cervicogenic headache may include:

• pain on one side of your head or face

• a stiff neck

• pain around the eyes

• pain while coughing or sneezing

• a headache with certain neck postures or movement

• cervicogenic headaches can also cause symptoms similar to migraine headaches, such as light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, blurry vision, and an upset stomach.

How Cervicogenic Headaches Differ from Other Types of Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches differ from other types of headaches in that they are caused by problems in the neck or cervical spine, rather than by problems in the head itself. Other types of headaches, such as migraines or tension headaches, may have different triggers and symptoms.


Diagnosing cervicogenic headaches can be challenging, as their symptoms can overlap with other types of headaches. Your physiotherapist will likely perform a thorough physical examination, including a detailed assessment of your neck and shoulder region, to determine if your headaches are cervicogenic in nature. Imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI scans may also be used to help diagnose the condition.

Treatment Options

The goal of treatment for cervicogenic headaches is to reduce pain and stiffness in the neck and improve overall function. Treatment options may include:

• Manual therapy: Your physiotherapist may use hands-on techniques such as massage or mobilization to reduce pain and stiffness in the neck and improve range of motion.

• Exercise: Your physiotherapist may recommend exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and posture in the neck and shoulder region. Examples may include stretches, core strengthening exercises, and aerobic exercise.

• Education: Your physiotherapist may provide education on proper posture and body mechanics to help prevent future cervicogenic headaches.

Examples of Exercises to Help with Cervicogenic Headaches

• Chin Tuck: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly tuck your chin in towards your chest, keeping your eyes level with the horizon. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then release.

• Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you are trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then release.

• Neck Rotation: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly turn your head to the left, looking over your left shoulder. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then return to center. Repeat on the right side.

Overall, cervicogenic headaches can be a challenging condition to diagnose and treat. However, with the right treatment approach and lifestyle modifications, most people are able to manage their pain and resume their normal activities. If you are experiencing headaches, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to ensure an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment.

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