Do you have neck pain and frequent headaches?

You may be suffering from cervicogenic headaches. Cervicogenic headaches originate from the cervical spine and are triggered by certain neck movements. Pain typically begins in the base of the neck and progressively moves into the head.

The most common causes of neck pain with cervicogenic headaches are arthritis, injury, or stress from repetitive movements that put pressure on the neck. The condition can also be caused by a damaged vertebra or herniated spinal disc that compresses a nerve in the upper part of your spine.

Cervicogenic Headache Diagnosis

Cervicogenic headaches can cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort that is triggered by neck movements or pressure
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain on side of the head
  • Same-sided shoulder or neck pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to noise, light, or sound

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Because cervicogenic headache symptoms are very similar to migraines, your doctor may perform a diagnostic test. A numbing, nerve-blocking medication may be injected into the area of the neck causing the pain. If the headache resolves, then cervicogenic headache is diagnosed. Your doctor may order diagnostic imaging tests such as a CT or MRI to take a picture of the neck.

Treatment for Cervicogenic Headache

Because cervicogenic headaches are caused by referred pain from the neck, treatment for cervicogenic headache is focused on the neck.

Here is a summary of the most common treatments:

Pain Medications

Medications can help reduce pain for cervicogenic headaches. Many over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are effective for this purpose. However, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication as needed to treat pain.

Physical Therapy

Cervicogenic headaches are often successfully treated with physical therapy. Your physical therapist will show you gentle exercises that will help you stretch and relieve pressure on your neck.

Physical therapy can also correct muscle imbalances in the neck and shoulders that cause cervicogenic headaches.


Many people get relief from cervicogenic headache pain through acupuncture, a 3,000-year-old healing technique of traditional Chinese medicine. During the procedure, fine needles are inserted in targeted areas of the body. Acupuncture prompts your body to release certain hormones and endorphins that reduce pain. It also calms the nervous system and provides increased blood flow and circulation into the muscles in the head and neck.

Radiofrequency Neurotomy

Another way to treat cervicogenic headaches is through radiofrequency neurotomy. Using an imaging scan, a needle is inserted into the specific nerves in the neck. The heat from radio waves target these specific nerves, temporarily blocking pain signals.

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Cervical Manipulation

Cervicogenic headaches can be treated by osteopaths or chiropractic doctors. A cervical manipulation – also known as a neck adjustment – is a precise procedure applied to the joints of the neck, usually by hand. This procedure improves the mobility of the neck and restores range of motion. It can significantly reduce pain in the neck and headache pain originating from the neck.

Biofeedback Therapy

Biofeedback can help treat stress-related headache pain and neck tension. Your doctor or therapist will apply electrodes to your skin and use a machine to monitor your heart rate, skin temperature, brain waves, and muscle tension. Then your therapist will talk you through mental exercises and relaxation techniques and help you understand how your body is responding. Over time, you will learn how to control your stress response, which reduces the occurrence of neck and tension headaches.

Ways to Prevent Cervicogenic Headache

Because cervicogenic headaches originate in the neck, prevention means focusing on building neck and spinal health.

Avoid movements that strain the neck.

In your daily activities, be mindful not to put unnecessary stress on your neck. Limit the amount of time you spend using mobile devices and laptops, which puts strain on your neck (a syndrome dubbed “text neck”).

Exercise regularly.

Doing regular neck exercises will help your pain symptoms subside over time. However, you should always ask your doctor before beginning a new diet or exercise regimen. Low-impact exercises will strengthen the muscles that support the neck and spine. Try a yoga class. Basic yoga poses such as cat/cow, seated twist, and puppy stretch help to relax the neck and increase range of motion.

Watch your posture.

Avoid slouching, which puts unnecessary pressure on the neck. Keep your spine erect when sitting or standing. If you work at a computer, sit up straight and set the height of the chair so you are keeping your spine in a neutral position and not straining your back or neck.

Speak with Your Healthcare Provider

Cervicogenic headache with neck pain can worsen if left untreated. It is important that you proactively seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional. Conservative treatment options, like physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications, are often effective treatment solutions. 

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