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Cervicogenic Headaches: What are They?

If you’ve been suffering from headaches and neck pain you may have heard about cervicogenic headaches. What is a cervicogenic headache? What does a cervicogenic headache feel like? And what can help a cervicogenic headache? In this article we’ll answer those questions.

Headache and neck pain - cervicogenic headaches

Can a Headache and Neck Pain be Related?

Absolutely! A headache and neck pain can be related. Some types of headaches can start with problems in the neck. These types of headaches are called cervicogenic headaches.

Note that cervicogenic is just one type of headache. There are many other causes for headaches and many do not involve the neck. However, if you’ve been having a headache and neck pain it may make sense to learn a bit more about cervicogenic headaches.

To learn more about neck pain, see Dr. Herzog’s video.

What is a Cervicogenic Headache?

When people refer to disc or vertebrae problems in their spine we tend to think of issues with the lower back. But, taking a look at the anatomy of the spine, we see that the spine begins just under the skull, in the neck. The bones, or vertebrae, in this portion of our spine are called cervical vertebrae.

Taking a look at the word cervicogenic you can see that the beginning portion comes from the word cervical. In medical terminology, placing -genic at the end of a word means ’caused by’. So, the word cervicogenic means:

“Originating from the cervical spine or other anatomical structures in the neck, such as nerves or muscles”3

Therefore, a cervicogenic headache is a headache caused by problems in the cervical area of the spine.

What does a Cervicogenic Headache Feel Like?

Most of the time a cervicogenic headache starts with a steady pain in your neck. The pain may then travel up the back of your head. Pain from a cervicogenic headache may start intermittently but later become steady.

Similar to a migraine, motion or neck movement can intensify the headache. In fact, diagnosis of a cervicogenic headache can be complicated by the fact that many migraine sufferers report similar symptoms as those suffering from a cervicogenic headache. However, the causes of a migraine may be vastly different from those of a cervicogenic headache.

What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?

Typically cervicogenic headaches are caused by irritation to a nerve in the cervical area of the spine. Irritation or compression of these nerves can be caused by a variety of factors:

  • osteoarthritis
  • trauma such as whiplash
  • long term poor posture or repeated motions

What Helps a Cervicogenic Headache?

As with other types of pain associated with the spine, an anti-inflammatory may be helpful in treating a cervicogenic headache. If the anti-inflammatory isn’t effective or pain worsens, you may decide it’s time to see a doctor.

The doctors here at Saratoga Spine can work with you to diagnose and determine the best way to treat your headaches.

If it’s time for you to see a doctor about your headaches or neck pain, give us a call at 518-587-7746 (Saratoga) or 518-743-1010 (Glens Falls) to schedule an appointment.

References

  1. Cervicogenic Headache: A Review of Diagnostic and Treatment Strategies
  2. Spine Universe
  3. Medical Terminology
  4. WebMD
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