What is a cervicogenic headache? How does a cervicogenic headache differ to a migraine and a tension type headache?
A cervicogenic headache is a type of headache that is caused by problems with the neck. Cervicogenic headaches are different from migraines and tension-type headaches because they tend to have less of a dramatic physiological change in the brain. For example, during a migraine attack, some people experience visual symptoms — like seeing flashing lights or spots before their eyes — that are called ‘aura’. These symptoms usually come before a migraine attack and last for about an hour. A migraine can also last from 4 to 72 hours. During that time, symptoms may include moderate to severe headache pain, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound (called photophobia and phonophobia), extreme fatigue, or trouble sleeping. So a cervicogenic headache is one that is more neck related, with pain being the most common symptom, and not so much the central symptoms that occur with migraine.
It also differs from a tension type headache because it doesn’t occur on both sides of the head, but most commonly on one side and in one specific area of the head.
Cervicogenic headaches are a type of headache that is caused by irritation or stiffness of the joints in the neck. The pain can radiate or refer to the head, shoulder, or arm and can be felt anywhere from the base of your skull to your shoulder.
Cervicogenic headaches may be related to a dermatome, which is a region of skin that receives sensory innervation from one spinal nerve root. (A spinal nerve root comes directly off the spinal cord and is an early part of a nerve). The C2 and C3 nerve roots supply sensation to the head. So, irritation of these nerve roots due to stiffness in the neck joints may cause pain in the head.
The cervicogenic headache causes pain on one side of your head and neck in the vast majority of cases, with tenderness over the affected area. Migraines however, tend to affect both sides of your head at once and take place during a migraine attack.
Tension type headaches are similar to migraines in that they cause pain on both sides of your head, but also involve tightness in your scalp as well as tension in your muscles. As the name suggests, tension type headaches are caused by stress / tension. The pain from this type of headache may radiate down the back of your neck, over the shoulders and upper back, though it’s not limited to these areas. People will often describe the tension type headache as a crushing or throbbing type pain in the frontal (forehead) region.
At Destiny Health, we provide a comprehensive Examination in your 45 minute appointment, to decipher the cause of your symptoms and create your Physiotherapy Management Plan. We also communicate with your doctor, specialist or other health care professionals as needed.
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