When cervical dysfunction or degenerative changes cause a headache, it is called cervicogenic headache. The prevalence of cervicogenic headache is estimated at 0.5 to 4 percent, but it can be as high as 20 percent of patients who have severe chronic headaches. Headaches occur for many reasons. It can be hard to know what type you have and what causes it.
But if it’s related to a neck problem, it’s most likely a cervicogenic headache (CH). The cause of a cervicogenic headache is often related to excessive stress on the neck. The headache may be due to cervical osteoarthritis (spondylosis), a damaged disc, or a whiplash-like movement that irritates or compresses a cervical nerve. The bone structures of the neck (for example, the facet joints) and its soft tissues (for example, muscles) can contribute to the development of a cervicogenic headache.
A cervicogenic headache is a common cause of chronic headache that is often misdiagnosed. The presenting characteristics can be complex and similar to many primary headache syndromes encountered daily. The main symptoms of cervicogenic headache are a combination of one-sided pain, diffuse ipsilateral pain in the shoulder and arm. ROM in the neck is reduced, and pain is relieved by anesthetic blockages.
Differential diagnosis includes migraine, continuous hemicrania, spondylosis of the cervical spine and tension-type headache. Treatment includes physical therapy, exercise, and interventional procedures. Cervicogenic headaches can simulate migraines, so it can be difficult to distinguish a cervicogenic headache from a migraine headache. The main difference is that a migraine headache is rooted in the brain and a cervicogenic headache originates in the cervical spine (neck) or the base of the skull region.
Usually, people who have cervicogenic headaches experience a headache accompanied by pain and stiffness in the neck. Certain neck movements can cause cervicogenic headaches.