The Causes Of Cervicogenic Headaches And How Physical Therapy Can Help

If you're having headaches and you're not sure why, it could be due to problems in your neck. Cervicogenic headaches are actually caused by neck problems but the pain is felt in your head, and it can be very painful and last for hours. These headaches are easy to confuse with migraines, so it's important to be checked by a doctor to see if the pain originates in your neck or from another cause. Here's information on the causes, testing, and treatment of these headaches.

What Might Cause A Cervicogenic Headache

An injury to your neck from a fall or car accident could cause you to suffer with cervicogenic headaches. Changes to the joints due to arthritis could also be to blame. Any injury or medical condition that affects the joints or nerves in your neck can cause pain that is referred to your head and experienced as a headache. Another common cause of cervicogenic headaches is poor posture. If you text frequently or look down at a tablet all day, that can put strain on your neck.

Certain jobs may require you to hold your head in the same position most of the day and that can lead to neck pain and stiffness. The way you sit, walk, and hold your body affects your neck since your neck is responsible for holding the heavy weight of your head. Poor posture puts strain on all the tissues in your neck and can result in joint problems, tissue irritation, and pinched nerves.

How A Cervicogenic Headache Is Diagnosed

It can be difficult to diagnose a cervicogenic headache since it is similar in many ways to a migraine. Your doctor may perform imaging tests on your neck. He or she may press different areas on your neck to check for painful areas. The muscle strength in your neck and range of motion might be tested also. Your doctor may even use a nerve block on your neck to find out if the pain in your head originates in nerve irritation in your neck.

How A Cervicogenic Headache Might Be Treated

A severe headache might be treated with a nerve block since the anesthetic will deaden the nerves in your neck. However, you'll probably need to undergo physical therapy for lasting relief. Your neck muscles could be imbalanced due to poor posture that leaves you with some overdeveloped muscles and some underdeveloped ones that cause your neck to move out of alignment.

Your neck muscles can be brought back to a normal state through various exercises that include stretching and building up weak muscles. In addition, your physical therapist may teach you proper posture techniques to use when walking and sitting at your work desk. If poor posture has gone on long enough, your entire body could be out of balance. You may need exercises targeted to making your core stronger or that strengthen your back muscles so you can stand straight. You'll also learn ergonomic positions for when you text and read from a tablet so no strain is put on your neck.

The physical therapist may help with pain relief too since your neck may be stiff and inflamed. Heat, ice packs, and massage may help with pain and improve range of motion. Physical therapy is instrumental in the treatment of cervicogenic headaches and it may be the only treatment needed besides anti-inflammatory medications. When pain is severe and caused by nerve compression, surgery might be needed, but that is usually rare. Learning the right exercises and doing them as instructed is important for treating neck problems, and improving your posture can help prevent the return of these debilitating headaches.