What is Cervicogenic Headache | Causes | Symptoms | Treatment

What is Cervicogenic Headache?

Cervicogenic Headache is referred to a unilateral headache that originates in the neck. This is one of the most common forms of headaches which can be chronic and recurrent. The pain tends to get worse with movement of the neck. There will also be restricted range of motion of the neck. Some people confuse Cervicogenic Headache with a common migraine or a tension headache. There are certain diagnostic criteria that need to be fulfilled before an individual is said to have Cervicogenic Headaches. These include that the headache should originate from the neck and radiate towards the head and the face. There should be clear evidence that the pain can be attributed to the cervical region.[1]

The headache should resolve within three months with treatment of the source of the pain. Cervicogenic Headache is normally caused due to irritation of the cervical structures which receive their supply of nutrients by the C1, C2, and C3 nerves. Cervicogenic Headache is quite rare and is usually seen in people in their middle age.[1]

There is no gender prevalence and both males and females tend to get it. It usually begins around the age of 30; however, in majority of the cases the diagnosis is not made or treatment is not sought until the individual is about 50 years of age.[1]

What Causes Cervicogenic Headache?

As stated, the primary cause of a Cervicogenic Headache is irritation of the cervical structures that get innervated by the C1, C2, or the C3 nerves. It is normally the C2-C3 vertebra that is responsible for the development of Cervicogenic Headache. This condition is seen more in people who strain their necks for prolonged periods of time such as when looking at the computer.[2]

There are also certain occupations that involve people to strain their necks like when working as a hair stylist, doing manual labor, or while driving long distances. In some cases, an injury to the cervical region such as after a motor vehicle accident or a blow or trauma to the neck may also result in the individual having a Cervicogenic Headache. There are also certain medical conditions that may result in an individual having Cervicogenic Headache and include tumors, infections, arthritis, and fractures.[2]

What are the Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headache?

An individual with a Cervicogenic Headache will have a headache accompanied by neck pain and stiffness. It will be difficult for that individual to move the neck in any direction without pain or discomfort. The pain in majority of the cases is unilateral and affects only one side of the neck. Cervicogenic Headache starts from the back of the head and gradually radiates towards the front. An individual with Cervicogenic Headache will also have severely restricted range of motion of the neck.[2]

Person suffering from cervicogenic headache will also have pain around the eyes along with pain in the shoulders or arms on the affected side. The headache will almost always be triggered by movements of the neck in any direction. Photophobia and phonophobia is also quite a common symptom of a Cervicogenic Headache. Some people also complain of nauseas with or without vomiting along with blurring of vision whenever they have a Cervicogenic Headache.[2]

How is Cervicogenic Headache Treated?

The treatment of Cervicogenic Headache depends on the cause of the condition. The approach towards treating this form of headache changes depending on the severity of the condition. The various treatment options available for Cervicogenic Headache include[2]:

Medications: There are a variety of medications available for treatment of Cervicogenic Headache. These medications may be prescription or can be bought over the counter depending on the severity of the symptoms. These medications include NSAIDs in the form of Tylenol and ibuprofen. The patient may also be given muscle relaxers to soothe the cervical muscles and provide pain relief. Some people benefit from antidepressants or antiepileptics as a mode of treatment of Cervicogenic Headache.[2]

Physical Therapy: This is an important aspect for the treatment of Cervicogenic Headache. This is because physical therapy takes care of any cervical irritation that may be causing these headaches. The patient can consult with a physical therapist that can form a therapy program that best suits the patient depending on the symptoms.[2]

TENS Unit: This is also quite an effective approach towards treating Cervicogenic Headache. This treatment involves placement of electrodes on the skin surface through which electrical signals are passed to stimulate the nerves around the area where the pain is stemming from. This is quite an effective treatment; however, the pain relief is rather short and the headache almost always recurs.[2]

Radiofrequency Ablation: This is also an effective treatment strategy for Cervicogenic Headache. This procedure involves utilizing radio waves to heat the tip of a needle and that needle is then inserted into the nerve that is causing the pain. The heated needle literally makes the nerve lifeless and thus stops the nerve from sending signal to the brain.[2]

Nerve Blocks: This also is quite effective in getting rid of Cervicogenic Headache. The physician will inject a numbing medication to the head and neck. This provides instant pain relief and also helps in identifying where the pain is originating from.[2]

Neuromodulation: This is a form of treatment used in people who find other forms of treatments mentioned above ineffective. This procedure involves stimulating the occipital nerve by placing electrodes behind the head. The stimulation of the occipital nerve gets rid of the Cervicogenic Headache.[2]

Other than the medical treatments mentioned above there are also certain home remedies that patients can try for treating Cervicogenic Headache. These remedies include deep breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and yoga or meditation. All these have shown to be quite effective in treating Cervicogenic Headache.[2]

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