Cervicogenic headaches are more commonly known as head and neck pain originating from the cervical region. This type of headache is classified as a type of secondary headache due to the source of the headache located in the neck. Cervicogenic headaches may be from muscle pain and spasms of the neck muscles, cervical facet joints, or the occipital (C2 or C3) nerve, located at the base of the skull. Multiple studies have indicated that these types of headaches may be under-diagnosed, with estimates of prevalence ranging from 2% up to 22%.
Any injury to the neck or cervical region of the spine can lead to cervicogenic headaches. This injury may be an acute, sudden injury resulting from an automobile accident, a sports-related injury, or a fall, or it may be the result of a long-term sustained injury caused by poor posture or even degenerative changes with age.
Cervicogenic headaches rarely present auras or nausea that are commonly associated chronic migraine headaches and the pain is not responsive to traditional migraine medications. However, cervicogenic headaches have been known to hasten migraine headaches. Appropriate diagnosis of these headaches is done in a full examination. Cervicogenic headaches may also be diagnosed if treatment of the neck delivers rapid relief from the headache.
The specific treatment for cervicogenic headaches varies by patient and by what is determined to cause the headaches. If the problem found in the neck is a result of musculature, then muscle-specific treatment options may provide relief. Treatment might include muscle relaxants, myofascial release therapy, and/or trigger point injections into the muscle. For patients whose headaches are a result of damage to the cervical facet joints, there is often underlying inflammation contributing to pain. In this case, an interventional procedure known as a radiofrequency ablation (RFA) may block the pain signal being generated from the joints. To directly address the nerve triggering the cervicogenic headache, the occipital nerve blocks may be administered to inhibit the problematic signaling.
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