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.
Some headaches are caused by eye strain, stress, tiredness, or trauma. If you feel a headache is coming, you may be able to isolate the cause. Cervicogenic headaches are different because they are caused by problems with the nerves, bones, or muscles in the neck. While you may feel pain in your head, it doesn’t start there.
Instead, the pain you feel refers to pain somewhere else in your body. A cervicogenic headache is a pain that develops in the neck, although a person feels the pain in the head. Secondary headaches are those caused by an underlying condition, such as neck injuries, infections, or severe high blood pressure. This differentiates them from primary headaches, such as migraines and cluster headaches.