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There are many different causes of headache and head pain. Cervicogenic headache describes headache symptoms that come from the neck. Neck joints and muscles often refer pain to the head, presenting as a headache. Symptom severity of cervicogenic headache can range from mild discomfort to severe, even mimicking migraine symptoms.

When managing head pain it is important to consider other potential causes of headache and associated symptoms. General Practitioner or Neurologist involvement may be required to help identify or exclude non musculoskeletal conditions. A Range Physiotherapist can typically identify musculoskeletal involvement of a headache and provide a recommendation when further medical referral is required. 

Treatment for cervicogenic headache usually involves a combination of manual therapy, exercise, and education to help manage pain and improve function. Manual therapy, such as spinal manipulation and mobilization, can help to improve joint mobility and reduce muscle tension in the neck. Exercises are often prescribed to target the deep neck muscles, which can help to improve posture and reduce the strain on the neck joints. Education is also an important aspect of treatment, as it can help to increase awareness of factors that may be contributing to the headache, such as poor posture or stress.

In addition to manual therapy and exercise, there are other modalities that may be used to manage cervicogenic headache. These can include ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and hot or cold packs. These modalities may be used in conjunction with manual therapy and exercise to help reduce pain and improve function.

It’s important to note that treatment for cervicogenic headache may take some time to take effect, and it may require a commitment to regular physiotherapy sessions and home exercise programs. However, with the right treatment plan, most individuals with cervicogenic headache can experience significant improvement in their symptoms.

We recommend applying the 5 stages of rehab to Cervicogenic headache: 

1 – Pain – Reducing headache symptoms and pain is the primary goal of physiotherapy treatments. Treatment, heat packs, medications and avoidance of headache triggers are all important when reducing symptoms. 

2 – Range of Motion – Cervicogenic headache is commonly associated with reduced range of motion through the upper neck joints. Although global range of motion may remain largely unchanged, restoring intersegmental movement and reducing upper cervical stiffness is key to reducing symptoms. 

3- Motor control – Learning to control neck and head movements, with particular attention to the upper cervical spine will help to prevent future exacerbations and allow return to more provocative activities. 

4 – Strengthen – Strengthening postural control muscles allows them to better tolerate higher loads and prolonged loading. This means exacerbations of the condition are less likely to occur under fatigue or with higher demand activities such as a full day working at the computer or heavy work in the garden.  

5 – Maintain – Long term management strategies are typically required to combat cervicogenic headaches. This includes preventing stiffness in the upper cervical spine with exercises or release work, and maintaining good strength and control through the neck postural muscles. Maintenance exercises are not necessarily demanding, but they are necessary.