Headaches and migraines can result in chronic, ongoing discomfort which can greatly affect a person’s work, sleep, recreational activities and overall quality of life.
Cervicogenic headaches, or neck-related headaches are relatively common. They are caused by a neural irritation at one of the segments of the upper neck. Some headaches can be related partially or fully to neck dysfunction. The International Headache Society recognizes the existence of cervicogenic headaches, but it is often an under-diagnosed disorder.
How do we know if the headache is from the neck? Typically cervicogenic headaches arise from the back of the head. They often have a mechanical pattern of behaviour, being worse at a particular time of the day (e.g. waking up or late in the evenings), or related to your activity (e.g. when sitting, driving or using the computer). They are often more on one side of the head than the other.
A thorough assessment by an experienced musculoskeletal physiotherapist can discern between headaches which may or may not be cervicogenic. The best indicator for a cervicogenic headache is when palpation of the neck triggers the headache.
Fortunately, treatment for this is relatively simple, as some other causes of headaches can require long-term medication. If the headache is neck related, there is good scientific evidence to prove that gentle manual mobilisation of the restricted segment is effective both in the short and long term. Exercises to strengthen the neck muscles and education to help with posture can also be useful.