Headaches are commonly experienced in Australia, with around 7 million Australians experiencing tension headaches and 4.9 million Australians suffering from chronic migraines. These headaches can significantly impact daily life, which can often lead to sleep disturbances, social limitations, decreased productivity and concentration at work. One particular type of headache that we will go through today is cervicogenic headaches.
Headaches can arise as a result of various contributing factors such as stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, insufficient food intake, and illnesses. One type of headache can also be caused by neck pain, these headaches are called cervicogenic headaches. In this blog, we will discuss cervicogenic headaches, what contributes to them, and physiotherapy as a treatment option.
What are cervicogenic headaches?
Cervicogenic headaches are a secondary type of headache characterised by pain originating in the neck that may be referred to the frontal, temporal or orbital (front, side, or eye) regions of the head and face. These headaches occur unilaterally (on one side of the head), and are often accompanied by a reduced range of motion of the neck. These headaches can be exacerbated by certain movements depending on the individual.
What causes a cervicogenic headache?
Cervicogenic headaches often result from pain, sensitivity, or stiffness in the structures of the neck that are innervated by the cervical spinal nerves C1-C3. These spinal nerves transmit sensory signals to the trigeminocervical nucleus. They also receive sensory signals from the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for the sensory innervation of the head. Sometimes the brain misinterprets where the pain signals originate from, resulting in neck pain being perceived as pain from the head.
Physiotherapy for cervicogenic headaches focuses on addressing the underlying causes; pain, sensitivity, or stiffness in the structures of the neck innervated by the C1-C3 spinal nerves.
Several techniques can be employed in the treatment and management of cervicogenic headaches. Your physiotherapist will conduct a thorough examination of your neck. From this they may be able to determine the best approach to treat your cervicogenic headache. Through the use of manual therapy techniques, treatment often aims to reduce the stiffness of the first three cervical joints and desensitise the soft tissue structures of the neck that may be contributing to the headaches.
Physiotherapists may also incorporate strengthening exercises into treatment. Strengthening the muscles of the neck may help to improve the range of motion of the neck, manage the pain, and improve your ability to manage daily activities. This will increase the stability of the neck which may allow for reduced pain in the head that originates from the neck.
In summary, cervicogenic headaches are caused by structures of the neck innervated by the C1-C3 spinal nerves. These headaches often cause debilitating pain which may interfere with daily life. Physiotherapy offers a promising solution in treating these headaches. If you or someone you know is suffering from headaches, ensure that you seek appropriate help so you may be able to receive the appropriate treatment.