Cervicogenic Headaches - A Right Pain in the Neck!

These headaches are very common and because they happen regularly, often people refer to them as "just a normal headache". However headaches usually happen for a reason, and for many people chiropractic treatment can be a very effective way of treating these headaches. It is one of the most common types of headache that we see as chiropractors see, and they can be very severe, and often have a profound effect on the lives of sufferers. 

What is Cervicogenic Headache?

A cervicogenic headache is caused by referred pain from the soft tissues and joints of the neck. When these structures are inflamed often a headache will result. Headaches generated by muscular trigger points are classified as 'regional pain syndrome', and very much overlap with these type of headaches.


The neck has a number of nerves that travel over the skull and if these nerves are irritated they will refer pain to various locations. Pain may radiate to the forehead (frontal region), the eyes (orbital region), the temple, and the ears.


Signs of cervicogenic headache are:

  • Pain around neck or base of the skull, may project to other areas of the head
  • Pain aggravated by specific neck movements
  • Restricted neck movement
  • Tenderness of neck muscles
  • Abnormal posture

Cervicogenic Headache Causes

The current theory is that they can be caused by abnormal movements or posture of the neck; osteoarthritis/spondylitis; or even post-whiplash injury.  All can lead to restriction of the joints, particularly the upper neck at the base of the skull. Occasionally the headache can be aggravated by neck movement and muscular trigger points as detailed above.


Chiropractic treatment for cervicogenic headaches is very similar to that of tension type headaches. These headaches can be tough to manage as many of the factors that cause the headaches in the first place are external, i.e. posture or sleeping position. Chiropractors can help through:

  • Soft tissue massage
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Acupuncture/dry needling
  • Spinal manipulation/mobilisation
  • Home exercises/stretches
  • Ergonomic and postural advice

Other treatments that might help with headaches available at TWC:

  • Hypnotherapy for stress management and help reduce tension
  • Deep tissue massage to help release trigger points
  • Diet advice for food intolerances/allergies i.e. gluten or dairy

This website provides links to multiple recent studies in to the affectiveness of chiropractic and the treatment of cervicogenic headaches:



A 2005 article reviews the diagnosis and treatment of cervicogenic headaches:


As with any new symptoms it is always important to visit your GP or chiropractor to rule out any other disorders before reaching a diagnosis yourself.

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