By Free Motion Physiotherapy

Headaches are not only debilitating, but they can be both frustrating and confusing as we try to understand why they move, where they come from and what causes them.

The best place to start when dealing with a headache is to identify the cause of the headache. You can then start with appropriate treatment and pain reducing techniques rather than simply masking your discomfort with medication.

A cervicogenic headache is a headache that is caused by pain in the neck which refers to the head.

Understanding a Cervicogenic Headache

Stiff joints in the upper neck and back are the primary cause of a cervicogenic headache. Movements in our neck are pain-free when our joints glide and move freely.

If a joint or its surrounding ligaments or muscles become irritated, the joints can stiffen and cause pain which may refer into other areas. This happens because nerves that supply the upper neck also supply the skin overlying the head, forehead, jaw, eyes and ears. Therefore, pain arising from structures of the upper neck may refer to any of these areas. Unfortunately, cervicogenic headaches are very common, but the good news is that they are very treatable through Physiotherapy.

The stiffening in the joints of the upper neck is often caused by everyday occurrences. Small changes made to your daily routine can make a big difference. 

Causes to consider

  1. Poor posture
  2. Stiffness of the joints in the neck and upper back
  3. Muscle imbalances (muscle tightness + muscle weakness)
  4. Previous neck trauma (ex: whiplash, sports injury)
  5. Incorrect desk setup
  6. Poor sleeping postures
  7. Being inactive

Headaches in Children

Cervicogenic headaches can also affect children. It is common particularly between the ages of 9 and 13, as they typically undergo growth spurts and start with tests and exams at school during this time. Life changes and emotional stress can also contribute to these headaches. Physiotherapy management is the same in children and can be pain-free and very effective.

The Role of a Physiotherapist in Headache Management

A physiotherapist will carry out a full body assessment with focus on the neck and upper back to determine a treatment plan. Some of the treatments may include:

Joint Mobilizations – movement techniques that aim to restore pain-free joint range of motion and movement of the neck.

- Postural Re-Education- alter incorrect movement patterns and encourage better alignment. 

- Stretching – a stretching program to maintain the flexibility of the neck, upper back and shoulders.

- Strengthening – neck problems are often linked with weakness of neck, shoulder and back muscles. Your physiotherapist will help you strengthen these muscles.