Neck-related headaches are also called cervicogenic headaches. These are headaches that arise from a neck issue such as a disorder in one of the top three or four joints in the neck. These headaches are usually felt on one side of the head and can be similar to a migraine, where the pain only occurs on the same side of the head. The pain often begins in the neck and spreads to the head. It is considered a 'secondary headache' as it is caused by problems in the neck.
Causes of a cervicogenic headache
There can be many causes of a cervicogenic headache, but most commonly, it is due to problems in the neck muscles or in the cervical vertebrae (the top part of the spine). Some jobs which involve straining the neck frequently for a long time can cause cervicogenic headaches. Other causes can be due to whiplash or fractures in the neck, and some medical conditions such as tumours, osteoarthritis can also cause cervicogenic headaches.
Symptoms of a cervicogenic headache
A cervicogenic headache is commonly felt as a dull ache in the head that may feel more painful when the head is moved. It is also common for the pain to begin in the back of the head and the neck before radiating towards the front of the head and side of head (temporal region). Other symptoms may involve neck pain or stiffness, pain around the eyes, increased sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, and blurred vision.
Physiotherapists will first examine your neck and shoulder region to determine what is the underlying cause for your headache. The physiotherapist will feel the muscles, soft tissues and joints around the neck, as well as check the mobility around the neck and the shoulder region. After determining what is causing the headache, the physio will then decide the best treatment options in consultation with you. Treatment may include manual therapy to reduce pain, restore normal movements and mobility. Specific therapeutic exercises may be prescribed to help improve mobility and strengthen the neck muscles. Posture correction may be necessary to help minimise symptoms and prevent exacerbation or reoccurrence of the symptoms.