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Cervicogenic Headaches

Headaches have countless causes, but one headache that osteopaths can help with is cervicogenic. This refers to any headache that is caused by the neck.

cervicogenic headache

Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headaches

This type of headache is typically one sided, and does not swap sides. It originates in the back of the head, or top of the neck, and spreads forwards. It may travel over the top of the head, or come around the side. The pain can cover the ear and eye, but it is unlikely to be accompanied by sensory changes. Typically there is no visual aura as there would be with a migraine, although it’s not impossible.


Similarly to lower back pain, there can be a number of structures at work to cause a headache. More than one of these can play a role in a single headache.


Osteoarthritis can cause ongoing irritation to joints in the neck. This might present with tightness of the muscles nearby, and a recurrent headache tracking up from the same area. Arthritis in the neck is also known as cervical spondylosis.

The joints can also be irritated by their own stiffness, known as a “facet lock”. This might feel like a “need to click” pain along with the headache. If clicking is appropriate and you are happy to do so, we can manipulate your neck in clinic. In the best cases, this can give instant relief to the neck and headache. However, the pain will likely return if the cause is not identified and addressed.


As with the lower back, nerves leaving the neck can be irritated. This can be due to compression from tissues such as a disc or muscle. Some nerves towards the top of the neck travel up to the head, so it makes sense that their irritation could cause a headache. When a nerve is irritated, it may cause pins and needles, numbness, or pain- it is possible that these symptoms may blend with your headache.


Muscles can be the first structures to be triggered when something goes wrong. If a joint is irritated, muscles will be tightened to try and protect the area. Often this is the opposite of what we want- movement is generally one of the best things we can do for pain.


Treatment itself depends on the cause. A lot of the time, managing a cervicogenic headache will mean working through the neck itself. This may include quick manipulation or gentle articulation to the joints, and massage to the muscles. Your osteopath may also give you things to help at home, such as instructions for applying heat or ice appropriately, and exercises to continue the improvement made in your sessions.

Cervicogenic headaches can be short lived but frequent. You don’t have to be in pain at the time of treatment to benefit! Part of our treatment plan will be decided by the factors we find in your pain. Maybe the muscles in your neck are tight because of a problem further down, or maybe a historic shoulder injury has changed the way you use your neck and upper back. Our treatment aims include minimising future episodes as well as providing relief at the time.

If you suffer from cervicogenic headaches, book in today.