What is a cervicogenic headache?
A cervicogenic headache is head and/or neck pain that is referred from the bony structures or soft tissues of the neck including the muscles or joints. Referred pain is pain that is felt at a site other than where the cause is located. These kinds of headaches can present on their own, or in conjunction with other types of headaches, such as migraines.
While these headaches can be seen after a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident or assault, these headaches are often seen without a precursor of trauma or specific injury. In fact, many people with cervicogenic headaches have sedentary jobs that often include sitting at a desk or computer for most of the day.
Cervicogenic headaches often appear in conjunction with other types of headaches. Some experts say there are as many as 150 different types of headaches. Also, a person can experience more than one type of headaches and many are hard to tell apart. The different headaches can affect each other as well (ie: cervicogenic headaches can be worsened by migraines and vice versa).
Symptoms Physical Therapists can Help
-Pain localized to the base, side or front of the skull
-Pain localized above or behind the eye, jaw/ear area
-Pain into the head or neck that is intermittent and lasts hours to days
-Pain that worsens with head/neck movement, or sustained or awkward positions - range of motion is often limited
-Can have any of these symptoms with nausea and visual disturbances as well
How to prevent or minimize cervicogenic headaches
Often, people who suffer from cervicogenic headaches, sit at desks for the majority of the day. This contributes to a forward head and rounded shoulders posture. As a result, this can lead to shortening and weakening of the muscles around the neck and shoulder blades. Below are ways to prevent/minimize headaches.
Sit up tall
Pull back shoulder blades Stand up every 30 minutes
Massage from neck to mid back
Chin tucks- hold 5 sec, repeat 5x (insert chin tuck pic)
Neck stretches- pull ear to shoulder & chin to shoulder, do 2x, 30 sec holds (insert neck stretch pic)
Rows: pull shoulder blades back, do 2 sets of 10 (insert row pic)
When evaluating a patient with cervicogenic headaches, a Physical Therapist performs an assessment of the following:
-Posture of head, neck, shoulder blades, and mid back
-Range of motion of neck, mid back, and shoulder
-Flexibility of soft tissues surrounding the neck, shoulders, shoulder blades, and spine -Strength of muscles around neck, shoulders, and shoulder blades
-Joint mobility of the neck, mid back, ribs, and shoulders
After assessing the patient, the Physical Therapist will treat the patient. When treating my patients, I utilize 5 methods:
Modalities such as ultrasound or electric stimulation to promote blood flow and healing and decrease inflammation
Exercises to strengthen/stretch muscles in the neck, rotator cuff, also postural exercises.
Education- instructions on body mechanics when sitting (in car or at desk), standing, bending/lifting, sleeping (proper use of pillow)
Manual Therapy- joint mobilization and muscle stretching to improve joint and muscle flexibility
Home exercises to reinforce program
Physical Therapy can be a very effective means in the reduction and often complete resolution of cervicogenic headaches. If you are unsure as to whether you’re a candidate for physical therapy, ReThrive can help determine the best course of action. If you’re interested, contact ReThrive, and schedule an evaluation.