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Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic Headaches

What are they?

Cervicogenic headaches are headaches caused by muscle spasms in the neck. These headaches can be better classified as: tension headaches.  A tension headache tends to be a constant gripping headache that starts in the back of the head and progresses toward the front of the head.  It typically worsens as the day progresses and may be provoked with neck movements.  Symptoms can be alleviated with rest, stretching, chiropractic manipulation, physical therapy, massage therapy and ice or heat applications.


1st Step

Check your blood pressure!  A headache is one of the first signs of high blood pressure (hypertension).  It is extremely important to rule out hypertension prior to being concerned for other causes of headaches.  High Blood Pressure is the leading cause of a stroke.

How can you tell if it is a Cervicogenic Headache?

If pressing on the muscles located just below your skull, causes localized pain and/or reproduces the headache, you are likely suffering from a cervicogenic headache.  In addition, if your symptoms are similar to those described above and you continue to suffer from headaches on a regular basis, consult your chiropractor or physical therapist for a consultation.

Note:  the red muscles are commonly known as the suboccipital triangle.  I like to call them the “headache” muscles.

How are Cervicogenic Headaches treated?

Unfortunately, most people take medications that lessen the perceived pain but never solves the problem.  Treatment should consist of stretching, massage, ice, ultrasound, exercise, and spinal manipulation (when indicated).  

Noticeable improvement in headache frequency and/or intensity should be noted within the first 2-4 weeks or further diagnostic testing should be considered.  If treatment is improving your condition, it may be prudent to continue treatment on a tapering frequency.  

If no response to treatment is noted within the first 2-4 weeks, MRI imaging of the neck and brain is indicated to rule out intervertebral disk injuries and anomalies (abnormalities) of the brain (one being: Arnold Chiari malformation-a condition in which the brain sits lower in the skull causing a pinching to the brainstem resulting in numerous symptoms, primarily being a headache).  

Todd R. Custer, D.C., A.T.C. – Dr. Custer is a doctor of chiropractic and certified athletic trainer, and has been rehabilitating injured athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels (Philadelphia Eagles Football Club) since 1994.

Dr. Custer graduated from Texas Chiropractic College summa cum laude, and is currently treating patients at the Better Care Chiropractic & Physical Therapy.  

Questions/comments or requests for future topics can be forwarded to [email protected]

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