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  • Danielle Labuschagne

Cervicogenic headaches – what a pain in the neck!

Don’t you just feel miserable when you have a bad headache? Like you don’t want to do anything or see anyone? You just want to take a painkiller and sleep until it is better?

Yes, headaches can leave you feeling like this. That is why it is so important to determine the cause of your headaches. Unfortunately there are many origins for headaches such as hormones, tension or stress, weakness of your eyes, migraine triggers like caffeine or chocolate and a stiff neck, to name a few.

Luckily there is help for these types of headaches and could include either medication, a change in diet, exercise, a visit to an optometrist, an ophthalmologist, a physiotherapist etc.

What are Cervicogenic headaches?

This is a term used to describe headaches that arise from a problem in your neck (your cervical spine). This could either be due to stiffness or a strain of the joints in jour neck, a problem in the muscles of the neck like spasms or strains or a nerve problem in and around the neck.

Signs and symptoms of a Cervicogenic headache:

  • This headache is usually only one-sided, however it could occur on both sides of the head at the same time.

  • The duration of the headache can differ from a few hours to a few weeks.

  • Neck symptoms are always associated with this type of headache, such as:

The head pain is brought on or made worse with movements or sustained positions of the neck

  1. The head pain is triggered by applying pressure to the top part of the neck or the back of the head.

  2. The movements of the neck are usually restricted

  3. The headache is mostly accompanied by ipsilateral neck, shoulder or arm pain.

  • The intensity of the headache is moderate to severe, non-throbbing and non-lancinating, usually starting in the neck.

Silence the headache by removing the pain in the neck. But life goes on and you cannot just sleep until the pain subsides, so you need different help…Pain medication and muscle relaxants might help for a while, but this is not a lasting result.


Physiotherapists make use of different techniques to correct the problem in your neck that is causing this headache.

Firstly, you would be evaluated to see where and what the problem is.

  • Posture correction: an incorrect or poor posture could cause excessive strain on your neck joints or muscles. Posture correction could be taught and applied to your daily life.

  • Massage: Stiffness and spasms in the muscles of the neck and surrounding muscles could be treated by a deep myofascial release.

  • Dry Needling: To release trigger points in muscles that may refer pain to the headache area.

Dry Needling
  • Manual Therapy: Gentle mobilisations to loosen the stiff neck joints and to restore normal movement of the neck and thus decreasing the strain to the neck.

  • Manipulations: in the case of a malalignment or an abnormal movement of a joint, a manipulation could be performed to correct the movement of the neck joint.

Manipulations of the neck

  • Exercise: training the stabilising muscles of the neck to activate properly in order to maintain normal and optimal movement of the neck. Neck range of movement exercises to prevent stiffness of the joints and muscles.

  • Stretches: the neck muscles and surrounding shoulder muscles might need stretching to keep them loose and prevent further spasms or shortening and to promote optimal movement of the neck.

  • Pain treatment: ultrasound and laser treatment could be done to increase circulation and decrease pain and inflammation.

So, loosen up your neck to lighten up your head…

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