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Cervicogenic Headaches – Cause & Management

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | August 13th, 2019

Hi folks,

Shawe Physio are proud to bring you an excellent article from senior physiotherapist Ashley Schoenwetter who joins our team later this month. We could not be more excited to have you on board, Ashley!


Could your headache be coming from your neck?


There are so many different types and causes of headaches. If you’ve been dealing with headaches yourself, you know how frustrating it can be trying to get to the root cause of the problem and to find a way to help you feel better. When thinking about your headache, it’s good to know there is the possibility it could be coming from your neck. Cervicogenic headaches are headaches which are caused by tension, tightness and/or stiffness in your neck, or cervical spine. Usually it is tightness of the joints and muscles in the upper portion of the neck where it meets the head.


How do I know if my headaches are caused by my neck?

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you may be dealing with cervicogenic headaches:


  • Headaches that are triggered by neck movement or when your head is held in an awkward or uncomfortable position;
  • Tenderness/pain with gentle pressure along the neck;
  • Limited neck mobility;
  • Headaches that tend to be on one side of your head and rarely change sides


What are the causes?

  • Incorrect sitting posture or imperfect movement patterns can lead to stiff muscles and joints in the upper neck. Usually you feel your headache mostly on the side of the head where the stiffness is present.
  • A neck injury from a car crash or similar may cause your neck to become stiff and can contribute to headache symptoms.


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  • Check your posture! When you are sitting, make sure your ears are directly over your shoulders and your shoulders are directly over your hips. This will help limit the amount of stress put on the upper neck.


  • Check your ergonomic set-up. If working at a desk, make sure your computer screen is directly in front of your eyes (i.e. you don’t have to look up or down or turn your head left or right to see the screen). Also, If you have to turn your head often to look at something off screen, make sure you are spending equal time turning left and right. Turning to one side many times throughout the day can cause stiffness on one side of the neck.


  • Don’t sit for too long. Try to stand up, move around and stretch every 45 min. Being in a sustained position for long periods will keep your neck stiff.


  • Perform gentle neck stretches that are pain-free. When doing the following stretches, you should feel a gentle stretch and absolutely no increase in pain. Hold each one for 15-30 seconds and perform several times throughout the day:
    • Gently tuck your chin and look down slightly to help open up the upper neck.
    • Reach your right ear towards your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch on your left. Repeat on the left.



How can a physio help with my headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches are primarily caused by muscle and joint stiffness of the neck and physiotherapists help improve these types of restrictions every day! An experienced physiotherapist will be able to evaluate your mobility, strength, posture and flexibility to help determine exactly where your pain is coming from. Then the physio can use hands on therapy, teach you stretches/exercises and help you understand how to prevent these types of headaches from occurring.


When should I go see a physio?

If your headaches are keeping you from sleeping, from enjoying your normal activities or overall impacting your quality of life, then it is time to see a physio. If after a full exam the physio determines there may be a different cause of your headaches, they will help you find the right healthcare professional for you.