Cervicogenic headache describes a headache that originates from the neck, specifically the upper segments of the cervical spine.

  • Unilateral headache that begins in the neck or base of the skull and projects forwards (headache may be bilateral but doesn’t side shift)
  • Symptoms are of moderate intensity (not throbbing or stabbing)
  • Symptoms are aggravated by neck movements or sustained neck postures
  • Other symptoms include restricted neck mobility, increased muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, nausea, dizziness and blurred vision
Cervicogenic headaches arise from the misinterpretation of inputs to the brain. Information from the neck and the head converge onto one set of neurons in the brainstem, thus if there is pain in the neck it can end up being perceived in the head as well as the neck.

There are also several factors which may contribute to the development and maintenance of cervicogenic symptoms such as poor postural awareness, joint stiffness in the neck and upper back, incorrect workstation setup, muscle imbalances around the neck and shoulders, stress and previous neck injury.

We recommend that you attempt to rest from those activities at home, work or during sport which make your symptoms worse. You may apply heat to the neck in the form of a microwaveable wheat bag or hot water bottle and take analgesic or anti-inflammatory medications to help with your pain.

Cervicogenic headaches will respond rapidly to physiotherapy, and you should notice a significant improvement after your first session. Your physiotherapist will use techniques to reduce your pain, restore normal and functional movement to the neck region and address any postural and muscle length, strength and control issues. Part of your treatment will include the prescription of home exercises to reduce the risk of recurrence. The exercises given to you are an important part of your treatment, and it is always those who are most compliant with their exercises that will get the best results.