Cervicogenic Headache



Cervicogenic headache (CGH) is a type of headache that originates from the cervical spine (neck) and is often related to underlying neck problems. It is considered a secondary headache caused by another condition, typically involving the neck structures or nerves. Cervicogenic headache that is referred from structures in the neck. This means that pain signals originating in the neck are interpreted by the brain as pain in the head.


The causes of cervicogenic Headaches are usually related to disorders or dysfunctions in the cervical spine or neck structures. Some common causes include:
1: Muscle Tension: Tight muscles in the neck and shoulders.
2: Cervical Disc Disease: Disc herniation or degeneration in the cervical spine.
3: Arthritis: Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis affecting the neck joints.
4: Injury or Trauma: Previous neck injuries or trauma, such as whiplash.


Cervicogenic headaches often present with the following symptoms:
1: Unilateral Pain: The pain is typically on one side of the head and may radiate to the forehead, temple, or behind the eye.
2: Neck Pain: Pain and stiffness in the neck are common.
3: Reduced Range of Motion: Difficulty in moving the neck.
4: Shoulder and Arm Pain: Sometimes, the pain may extend to the shoulder or arm on the same side.
5:  Provocative Maneuvers: Certain head or neck movements may trigger or worsen the headache.

The exact pathology of cervicogenic headache is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve irritation or inflammation of the structures in the neck, which can lead to pain signals being transmitted to the head. The upper three cervical nerves (C1-C3) are often implicated in cervicogenic headaches.


Physical Examination:
A thorough physical examination will be conducted to assess the range of motion in the neck and identify any areas of tenderness or muscle tightness.The healthcare provider may perform specific maneuvers to reproduce or exacerbate the headache, helping to differentiate it from other types.

Neurological Examination:
A neurological examination will be conducted to rule out other potential causes of headaches. This may include assessing reflexes, muscle strength, and sensory function.

Imaging Studies:
While there is no specific diagnostic test for cervicogenic headaches, imaging studies such as MRI or CT scans may be ordered to rule out other structural issues in the neck, such as disc herniation or arthritis.

Diagnostic Injections:
In some cases, diagnostic nerve blocks or injections may be used. Anesthetic agents can be injected into specific nerves or joints in the neck to temporarily block pain signals. If the headache is alleviated after the injection, it suggests that the specific area targeted is the source of the pain.


Medications: Pain relievers, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc.
(Note: Medication should not be taken without the doctor’s prescription.)


Thermotherapy or heat therapy to the neck may provide relief. Some people find comfort in warm compresses.

Cryotherapy or cold therapy to the neck may provide relief. Some people prefer taking ice packs as it may decrease their pain.

Massage therapy:
Massage therapy of the neck by a qualified physiotherapy professional may help relieve muscle tension and improve the range of motion.

Cervical Traction:
Cervical traction involves gently stretching the neck to relieve pressure on the spinal discs and nerves. This can be done under the guidance of a physiotherapist.

Behavioral and Lifestyle Modifications:
Identifying and addressing triggers, such as stress or poor sleep, can be beneficial. Stress management techniques, relaxation exercises, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule may help reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS):
TENS is a non-invasive method that involves applying low-voltage electrical currents to the skin using electrodes. The electrodes are strategically placed around the neck or the area where the pain is felt.TENS is thought to work by stimulating nerves in the affected area, which may help to modulate pain signals and reduce the perception of pain.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS):
EMS involves the use of electrical impulses to stimulate muscle contractions. It can be helpful in reducing muscle tension and promoting relaxation. Physiotherapists may use EMS to target specific muscles in the neck and shoulders that may be contributing to cervicogenic headaches. By promoting muscle relaxation, EMS may help alleviate pain and improve overall neck function.

Galvanic Stimulation:
Galvanic stimulation involves the use of direct current to stimulate nerves and muscles. It may be used to address pain and inflammation and promote tissue healing. Galvanic stimulation is less commonly used than TENS or EMS but may be considered in certain cases.

Posture Correction:
Improving posture, especially for individuals with desk jobs or prolonged sitting, can reduce strain on the neck and prevent cervicogenic headaches. Posture correction and ergonomic advice may also be included to reduce strain on the neck.

Manual Therapy:
Hands-on techniques such as joint mobilization and manipulation may be employed to improve the mobility of the cervical spine. Soft tissue techniques, including massage and myofascial release, can help reduce muscle tension.

Specific exercises are prescribed to address muscle imbalances, improve strength, and enhance flexibility in the neck and shoulders. Neck stabilization exercises may be included to improve control and support of the cervical spine.

Posture Correction:
Correction of poor posture is a key aspect of physiotherapy for cervicogenic headaches. Patients are taught proper ergonomics and exercises to maintain good posture throughout daily activities.

Stretching Techniques:
Stretching exercises are designed to improve the flexibility of tight muscles in the neck and shoulders. Neck stretches and range of motion exercises may be prescribed to reduce stiffness.

Home Exercise Program:
Patients are typically provided with a home exercise program to reinforce the benefits of in-clinic physiotherapy sessions. Consistent adherence to the home program is essential for long-term success.


Patient education is a crucial aspect of managing cervicogenic headaches. Providing clear information empowers patients to understand their condition, participate in their treatment, and make lifestyle changes that can contribute to long-term relief. Educate patients on warning signs that may necessitate immediate medical attention, such as severe headaches, neurological symptoms, or sudden changes in symptoms. By providing thorough and clear education, physiotherapists can empower patients to actively participate in their care and improve their overall well-being.

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