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What are Cervicogenic Headaches?

A cervicogenic headache is a headache associated with neck pain and stiffness. The headaches result from problems with the neck. Almost half of the global population suffers from headaches, with 15-20 percent of those headaches being cervicogenic. Research has shown that there is a higher prevalence of headaches in adults with neck pain. Females are more predisposed to cervicogenic headaches affecting four times as many women as men.

Cervicogenic headaches usually start on one side of the back of the head and neck, migrating to the front, and sometimes have same-sided arm discomfort. Cervicogenic headaches may be on both sides of the head and neck and often are aggravated by neck positions and specific occupations such as hair-dressing, carpentry, and truck/tractor driving.

Poor posture or forward head posture can overwork and create stress on the muscles triggering a headache. Some of the muscles around the neck and shoulders become tight causing other muscles in the area to become weak. Trigger points in the muscles and fascia may develop and will refer pain into the cranial region, creating headache-like symptoms. Some of the muscles may refer pain down the arm as well.

A physical therapist can work with you to correct the problems that are causing the pain and teach you how to prevent future cervicogenic headaches through simple changes in your posture and lifestyle. A physical therapist can improve your neck mobility through a technique called manual therapy to increase movement and alleviate pain along with stretching the muscles that are tight. Physical therapy will improve the strength of the muscles that help stabilize your upper back and neck to improve posture and endurance and to make it easier to sit or stand for prolonged periods of time without discomfort. Exercises and everyday changes will improve your posture throughout the day to decrease pain and headaches.

If work is causing cervicogenic headaches due to posture or positioning, there are several easy changes you can make to your workplace including:
• Using a headset instead of a regular phone
• Adjusting the computer screen so that it is no lower than the level of your eyes
• Finding an appropriate desk chair
• Adjusting the position of your computer mouse

If you experience any pain on one side of your head or face, steady pain that doesn’t throb, head pain when you cough or sneeze, pain with a deep breath, head or neck pain that can last for hours or days, or a stiff neck, then go see your doctor and get a prescription for physical therapy. Cervicogenic headaches are often underdiagnosed and physical therapy can help relieve and prevent future headaches.

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