If you’re a headache sufferer, you’ll know how disabling they can be and what impact headaches can have on day-to-day life.

A cervicogenic headache is when structures in the neck refer pain from the upper part of the neck into the head and produce a headache.

It is important to speak to your GP about any new headache onset, but if the cause of the headache is originating from structures in your neck – either the muscles, joints or discs then osteopathic treatment could help alleviate your symptoms.

What are Cervicogenic Headaches?

The neck or cervical spine is made up of 7 vertebrae and the first 2 vertebra, your C1 & C2 have a unique shape and function. Between each vertebra, there is a disc and also a spinal nerve that emerges from each side of the vertebral column. A cervicogenic headache is when the spinal nerves of C1-3, the first 3 cervical vertebrae produce pain signals and this then causes pain to be felt in the head, especially in the back of the cranium and the forehead area above the eye.
This type of headache is most common in people between 30-45yrs old, but this doesn’t mean people outside of this age range can’t get these headaches.

Cervicogenic headaches are a recurrent type of headache and can be triggered by doing certain movements with your neck or by certain postures. The pain can be caused by an isolated event or can be caused gradually over time.

The main symptoms are:

  • Pain in one side of your head
  • Stiffness and tension in your neck
  • Neck movements aggravate your headache symptoms
  • Tenderness in the muscles in the neck and shoulders
woman holds her sore neck with her hand

Why Cervicogenic Headaches Occur

Cervicogenic headaches are believed to be referred pain from the upper cervical spine – C1-3. These spinal nerves supply several structures including muscles, joints, ligaments and discs, which means that any of the structures being supplied by the C1,2,3 nerves could be producing your pain and symptoms.
An osteopath can help you identify where the pain is originating from in the neck and help provide long term relief from these symptoms.

Headaches arising from the neck can be caused by:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Poor posture placing increased load on the structures in your neck
  • Sleeping postures
  • Prolonged postures throughout the day
  • Osteoarthritis in the cervical spine
  • History of whiplash

One of these or a combination of these factors could be causing your symptoms which is why it is important to identify the cause, as this can help you prevent the symptoms from reoccurring in the future. It also allows our osteopaths to provide a more tailored treatment approach which might include lifestyle advice.

man wearing grey hoodie with a headache and head in hands

Can Osteopathy Help Cervicogenic Headaches?

Osteopathy can help with cervicogenic headaches by treating the issue in your neck, providing long lasting symptomatic relief. Our osteopaths will not just look at your neck, but also your thoracic spine, shoulders and ribcage to make sure these surrounding areas aren’t contributing to your neck and head symptoms. Our osteopaths use a combination of massage, joint articulation and joint manipulation to help alleviate your symptoms, as well as provide you with gentle exercises and stretches to help manage your symptoms between treatments. Muscular tension can build up over time, so it can then take time for this tension to reduce. The exercises your osteopath will give you will aim to help alleviate this tension and build strengthen into muscles that may have become weaker.
Addressing the cause or contributing factors to your symptoms is also part of our osteopathic approach as this can help either prevent your symptoms from reoccurring or best manage your symptoms for the future.

Why Use Osteopathy For Cervicogenic Headaches?

The primary form of treatment for cervicogenic headaches is physical therapy and it has been shown to help provide long lasting results. Osteopathy offers a holistic approach to treatment for cervicogenic headaches by looking at what has caused these symptoms to occur as well as a hands on treatment approach. Osteopathic treatment aims to improve the muscle tension in and around the neck, as well as improving the range of movement in the joints allowing these structures to function in a harmonious and balanced way which can address the cause of your headache.
If your symptoms do not improve with physical therapy, there is some evidence that cervical epidural steroid injection can provide relief from the pain and symptoms, this is something that can be discussed further with your GP.

Tips for Dealing with Cervicogenic Headaches

Headaches can be caused by a number of different reasons and identifying which type of headache you have is important. If you are suffering with cervicogenic headaches then it is important to build strength in the deep neck flexor and upper back muscles, improve the mobility through your thoracic spine and stretch over tight muscles in the neck. This approach alongside osteopathic treatment can help provide a long term strategy to help keep you symptom free.

If you are suffering from cervicogenic headaches and wondering whether osteopathic treatment could help you, please get in touch with us today.