Everyone goes through headaches. These headaches can be different in terms of frequency and intensity for different individuals. There are many reasons why headaches occur, some more severe than the rest. One of the reasons for headaches can be related to a problem in the neck. This neck-related headache is called a cervicogenic headache.
A cervicogenic headache starts in the cervical spine or neck and sometimes it can feel like a migraine headache symptom. It can start off as an irregular pain, then spread to one side of the head and become continuous. The pain can also get severe with neck movement or when the neck is in a specific position such as looking into the laptop screen while working.
In this article, we will discuss cervicogenic pain and find out what causes it and the symptoms you need to watch out for.
What is Cervicogenic Headache?
A cervicogenic headache occurs due to any injury or disorders like tumors, infections, rheumatoid arthritis in the upper cervical spine or neck. People who have these headaches can often experience reduced movement of their neck. This headache can worsen with certain neck movements or applying pressure in certain areas of the neck. The headaches are often felt on one side and the pain is felt from the neck or back of the head to the front or behind the eye.
What are the Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headache?
A cervicogenic headache may feel like a migraine, but it is completely different. Here is what a cervicogenic headache can feel like:
· Pain on one side of the head or face
· Decreased neck movement
· Pain around the eye
· Pain when coughing or sneezing
· Irregular pain that becomes continuous
· Pain caused by certain neck movements
· Eye swelling and blurry vision
· Pain in the arm and shoulder on the same side
What Causes Cervicogenic Headache?
As discussed above, cervicogenic headache is a neck-related headache. Injuries or disorders in the cervical spine or neck can cause these headaches. Here are some injuries or disorders in the neck that can cause this pain:
· Damaged disc
· Cervical osteoarthritis (spondylosis)
· Whiplash that irritates the cervical nerves
· Injury to a component of cervical spine
· Injury to atlanto-occipital joint (joint between the base of the skull and the first cervical vertebra)
· Poor posture that can strain the neck
Does Cervicogenic Headache Turn Severe?
In some cases, certain factors can make the cervicogenic headache severe. Conditions like tumors, fracture, arteriovenous malformation, or hemorrhage in the neck region can result in much severe headache. Severe symptoms can look something like this:
· Severe headache that is unbearable
· Confusion or disorientation
· Nausea and vomiting
· Stiff neck
· Numbness in arms
· Headaches when coughing
It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if your symptoms start getting worse.
If you experience any of the symptoms it is best to see a medical professional for proper diagnosis. Since this type of pain is often like migraines, a thorough examination is needed to determine if it’s a neck-related headache. The diagnosis will begin with looking into medical history then physical and neurological examination.
This testing can include:
· MRI or magnetic resonance imaging
· Nerve block injections
· Sometimes CT scans
Treatment for Cervicogenic Headache
Cervicogenic headaches can come frequently and can be a hurdle in your daily life. This pain can be treated with proper guidance from your doctor so that it can be prevented. The first step would be to know for sure if it’s a neck-related pain. Consult a medical professional and confirm it. If the pain indeed is neck-related, then your doctor will suggest the best treatment for it. Here are some treatments that can help you deal with neck-related headaches.
To deal with the pain the doctor may suggest oral over-the-counter medicines. Medicines like aspirin or ibuprofen, Tylenol and muscle relaxants can help the pain subside. These medicines are useful to immediately treat the pain and help you get some relief.
Medications are a good way to get some relief from a debilitating headache, but it’s not a long-term solution. As part of the treatment your doctor may also recommend physical therapy as a treatment to heal your neck. Physiotherapy can help strengthen weak neck muscles and improve flexibility. It is a great way to heal any injuries that a patient may have sustained that is causing the headaches. The physiotherapy treatment for neck-related headaches can include massage therapy, exercises, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and other relaxation techniques.
Physiotherapists can advise you on how to manage your pain when you are at home. They may recommend a neck brace to help you sleep in upright positions without aggravating your neck injuries. Physiotherapy can improve your posture so that you can prevent any strain to your neck. With the right exercises and other treatments, you can deal with the root cause of your neck-related injuries. Physiotherapy is a long-term solution that can help the symptoms from getting worse and prevent these headaches in the future.
Nerve block injections
Sometimes the doctor can use nerve block injections to both diagnose and treat cervicogenic headache. The injections include a numbing agent that is injected near the nerves in the back of the patient’s head. If the headache subsides after this, it confirms that the pain is neck related.
In very rare cases a spine surgery is needed to deal with nerve compression.
Cervicogenic headaches are not always preventable. Since this headache is caused by trauma or conditions in the neck like osteoarthritis, sometimes it is not in your control. However, you can take some measures like improving your posture and keeping your neck and spine aligned while sleeping to avoid straining your neck. In addition, you can diagnose this problem early on if you experience any of the symptoms discussed above. This can help you deal with it immediately before it becomes more severe.
Headaches can be annoying and interrupt with your daily lives. Neck-related headaches can have a debilitating effect especially if they are continuous. If you are going through this pain, then it is a good idea to consult a professional and find out the root cause of this problem. Physiotherapy, exercises and a healthy lifestyle can ensure that your condition does not get worse and prevent it in the future.
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