Mya Care Blogger 23 Feb 2024

Cervicogenic headaches are a type of headache that originate from the spine in the neck. They can cause head, neck, and shoulder pain. These headaches are often misdiagnosed as migraines or tension headaches, leading to ineffective treatment.

This blog will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for these types of headaches.

What Are Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches begin in the upper cervical spine. The cervical spine encompasses the top seven vertebrae (spinal column bones) in the neck.[1]

These headaches are caused by irritation or compression of the cervical spinal nerves, soft tissue, and blood vessels in the neck[2]. Muscle strain, injury, or structural problems in the cervical vertebrae are often the root cause. The pain is then referred to the head, resulting in a headache.

The pain from these headaches is often felt on one side of the head, behind, around, and above the ear. It can radiate to the forehead, temple, and behind the eyes.


Cervicogenic headache symptoms can vary from person to person. Some common symptoms include:

  • Head pain on only one side
  • Pain that radiates from the neck to the head, forehead, temple, or behind the eyes
  • Stiff neck
  • Pain in the shoulders or upper back
  • Limited range of motion in the neck
  • Headaches triggered by neck movements or certain positions
  • Headaches that worsen with specific activities, such as sitting at a computer or driving
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or hands

If you experience any symptoms, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional. An early diagnosis and treatment plan can help to prevent chronic pain and other complications.

How Long Can a Cervicogenic Headache Last?

The duration can vary from person to person. In some cases, they may last for a few hours, while in others, they can last for days to weeks. It may also depend on the underlying cause[3] and the effectiveness of the treatment.

Can Cervicogenic Headaches Cause Other Symptoms?

In some cases, these headaches may also cause referred pain in a different part of the body. For example, referred pain from a spinal headache can arise in the shoulders, arms, wrists, or upper back.


Factors likely to cause cervicogenic headaches include:

  • Neck injuries: Whiplash, falls, or any other type of injury to the neck can cause head pain.
  • Poor posture: Sitting or standing hunched for an extended duration can strain the neck muscles and lead to headaches.
  • Muscle tension: Stress and tension can cause the neck muscles to tighten, leading to a headache.
  • Structural issues: Conditions such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease, or a herniated disc in the cervical spine can contribute. Tumors can also cause cervicogenic headaches.
  • Referred pain: Pain from other body areas, such as the shoulders or upper back, can lead to referred head pain.

Those who engage in strenuous activity, who adopt a forward head posture, and women are all at an increased risk for these types of headaches.[4]

Quality of Life With Cervicogenic Headaches

Chronic headaches can enormously impact your quality of life and overall well-being. It can be challenging to perform daily activities while struggling with chronic pain.

Seeking proper treatment can help improve your symptoms, lowering the frequency and severity of your headaches.


Diagnosing cervicogenic headaches can be challenging because the symptoms can mimic other types of headaches. Misdiagnosis is frequent.[5]

A detailed physical evaluation and medical assessment are necessary to rule out other causes.

Imaging tests that a doctor may order include X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. These tests assess the structure of the cervical spine and rule out any underlying conditions.

A nerve block may confirm the diagnosis. During the process, a doctor will administer a numbing injection into the nerves of the neck. The purpose of the nerve block is to see if it provides pain relief.

Can Cervicogenic Headaches Cause High Blood Pressure?

These types of headaches can indirectly raise blood pressure. The pain and discomfort can lead to increased stress levels, which in turn can raise blood pressure.

Treatment Options for Cervicogenic Headaches

The treatment for cervicogenic headaches depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition.[6] Here are some standard treatment options:


Over-the-counter pain relievers offer temporary relief. These include ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Prescription muscle relaxants or antidepressants may be indicated in some cases to help manage neck pain.


As a home remedy for treating a cervicogenic headache, exercises that target the neck muscles can be beneficial. Certain exercises can help improve their strength and flexibility, reducing headache frequency and severity.

Some recommended exercises include neck stretches, shoulder rolls, and chin tucks.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often recommended for chronic headaches, especially when daily exercises at home are not working. Studies have shown that physical therapy dramatically reduces pain and improves outcomes for those with cervicogenic headaches.

A physical therapist can correct your technique and intervene with suitable exercises. These will help you improve your posture, neck muscles, and range of motion.

They may also use other techniques to relieve pain and facilitate muscle relaxation in the neck. Examples include massage, heat or ice therapy, and electrical stimulation.

Spinal Manipulation

Spinal manipulation, or chiropractic adjustment, is typical for cervicogenic headaches. A chiropractor applies expertly controlled force to the joints in the neck to improve their mobility and reduce pain.

In a small study of 28 patients with cervicogenic headaches[7], scientific findings reveal that spinal manipulation can cut down on pain-relieving medications by 36% and lower headache frequency by 69%.

Nerve Blocks

As mentioned earlier, nerve blocks can diagnose cervicogenic headaches. They can also treat those in extreme pain.

In this procedure, a numbing medication is injected into the cervical spinal nerves to provide long-lasting pain relief. The effects can last anywhere from a few weeks to months.

A nerve block can relieve pain, allowing one to engage in physical therapy to solve the problem.

Finding a qualified practitioner to minimize the risk of complications is crucial.

Cervicogenic Headache Treatment at Home

In addition to the options above, the following steps can help manage head and neck pain.

  • Applying heat or ice to the neck.
  • Practicing good posture.
  • Taking breaks from activities that strain the neck, such as sitting at a computer.
  • Using a supportive pillow while sleeping.
  • Avoiding activities that trigger your headaches.
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, to reduce stress and tension in the neck muscles.[8]

Prevention of Cervicogenic Headaches

Many practices mentioned above double up as preventive measures. Maintaining proper posture, incorporating regular breaks from neck-straining activities, relaxation techniques, and refraining from headache-triggering activities can all help reduce your risk of developing cervicogenic headaches. In addition, using proper form when exercising or lifting heavy objects and maintaining your ideal weight can reduce strain on the neck muscles.

While it may not be possible to prevent all headaches, these are some steps you can take to reduce your risk.


Cervicogenic headaches can be a debilitating condition. Proper treatment and lifestyle changes can effectively manage, if not wholly correct, chronic headaches. If you experience symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and optimal treatment. With proper care, you can receive relief and improve your overall quality of life.

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To search for the best doctors and healthcare providers worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine.


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