It’s only right and natural that we assume that when something hurts there’s an issue there. Knee pain – often a knee ligament issue, foot and ankle pain – usually an injury, wrist pain, could well be a repetitive strain issue. It’s a little less easy to understand the way in which some issues – especially spinal ones – can actually cause pain elsewhere in the body, and headache is a condition which very often falls into this category.
What is a cervicogenic headache?
Cervicogenic headache is a term used to describe a headache which has its root cause not in the head, but rather in a neck issue. A cervicogenic headache is typically characterised by a dull pain that radiates from the neck to the back of the head. At times it may also spread around the side or front of your head – it’s different from a migraine, although the two are often confused, and there’s nothing to say that you couldn’t be suffering from both types, actually this is fairly common.
What causes cervicogenic headache?
Cervicogenic headaches are a common issue for people who spend long hours with their neck in a sub-optimal position – the number one cause is… you guessed it – long periods spent working at a desk in a poor position. If you spend long hours at the computer, or even just reading each day you’re probably a good candidate for cervicogenic headaches.
Long periods spent in a poor posture puts strain on the spine (especially the neck) which it isn’t really designed to handle. Your spine is a complex organism that does an excellent job at holding up your entire body – when it’s in proper alignment it distributes the force exerted by gravity efficiently throughout the body and the supporting muscles. When we don’t maintain good posture, however, force is exerted on the spine in a way in which it is not intended to handle. The spine and supporting muscles are strong – hence they react and bear the load, however over time this causes pain and stiffness.
It’s neck stiffness and tender muscles around your head and shoulders which often appear before cervicogenic headache becomes an issue, so don’t ignore this sign – all that’s required at this point is a change in posture!
If no corrective action is taken, however, the stress and strain add up – and this is where for many, cervicogenic headaches begin to appear.
How to treat cervicogenic headache
The good news is that cervicogenic headaches are straightforward to treat – the root cause here is known and finding relief is, therefore, a simple two-stage process.
Firstly – address the existing cervicogenic headache and stop the pain. Chiropractic treatment is recognised as one of the best approaches for this, with over 70% of patients reporting improvement from chiropractic adjustment. Optionally, you may also want to continue chiropractic treatment to address any other spinal issues or postural imbalances which may put you at greater risk of developing cervicogenic again, but this isn’t required to address the initial pain.
Secondly – and this is the critical step for long-term improvement – make changes to your work environment to better position your neck throughout the day. At Complete Chiropractic we’re happy to work with clients to improve their daily habits and posture to prevent the issue from reoccurring. As mentioned above, sometimes this may mean working on underlying postural issues which may predispose you to neck problems. On the other hand, sometimes this process is a simple as performing some basic stretches each day (we can help with that too!) and getting a better office chair.
Can’t improve your work environment?
For some clients, it just isn’t possible to totally eliminate the postural constraints of their work – after all, many of us now work at a computer all day and with the best will in the world, it just isn’t always realistic to think we can achieve perfect posture. Here, chiropractic maintenance care can be an excellent alternative to help manage a situation which is otherwise not ideal. Recent research has shown, for example, that regular chiropractic care reduces the number of overall painful days for those suffering from low back pain and our personal experience tells us that the same applies to cervicogenic headache – as always, however, we’d encourage you to start simple and work on the basics first, if you can!
If Cervicogenic headache is an issue for you, get in touch today and start your journey out of pain!
 Chiropractic Spinal Manipulative Therapy for Cervicogenic Headache: a Single-Blinded, Placebo, Randomized Controlled Trial. BioMed Central. 2017.
 Andreas Eklund, Jan Hagberg, Irene Jensen, Charlotte Leboeuf-Yde, Alice Kongsted, Peter Lövgren, Mattias Jonsson, Jakob Petersen-Klingberg, Christian Calvert & Iben Axén, The Nordic Maintenance Care Program: Maintenance Care Reduces the Number of Days With Pain in Acute Episodes and Increases the Length of Pain Free Periods for Dysfunctional Patients With Recurrent and Persistent Low Back Pain – A Secondary Analysis of a Pragmatic Randomized Controlled Tial Chiropractic & Manual Therapies 2020 (Apr 21); 28: 19