Is Your Neck Causing Your Headache?

Have you been suffering from headaches for a long time?  Did you know the nagging and throbbing pain in your head could actually be caused by neck-related problems?

Neck-related headache, or cervicogenic headache, is a type of headache that originates from your neck.  Dysfunction of the upper part of your neck (C1, C2 & C3) leads to pain signals relayed towards your eyes, face, forehead, or sides of your head.

Possible Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headache:

  • One-sided pain on the face or head
  • Pain around the eyes
  • Reduced neck range-of-movement
  • Pain in the neck or shoulder
  • Headache triggered by certain neck movements or poor postures
  • Nausea, vomiting or dizziness

Common Causes of Cervicogenic Headache:

  • Longstanding neck pain or stiffness
  • Road traffic accidents/whiplash injuries
  • History of neck sprains
  • Poor neck posture

How do I know if my headache is neck-related?

To determine if your headache is neck-related, 3 tests could be performed.  If you are “positive” on all 3 tests, your headache is very likely to be neck-related.  If you are “positive” in only 1 or 2 tests, your headache is less likely to be neck-related.

Test 1: Neck active range-of-movement test 


Test 2: Lift off test


Test 3: Pressure to the neck

Self-management for Cervicogenic Headache


The two exercises below could help relieve your headache.

Exercise 1: self-massage of neck muscles

Use your knuckle and press into the dimple at the back of your skull gently in a circular motion.

Exercise 2: Stretching the back of your neck

Tuck your chin in first.  Then put your hands at the back of the head and bend downwards gently.  Hold for 15 seconds.  You should feel a stretch at the back of your neck.

How can a Physiotherapist help you?

As cervicogenic headache is caused by dysfunction in the neck, a detailed assessment is needed to determine if you have any muscle imbalances, misalignment in your spine (neck vertebrae) or posture, in order to tackle the root cause of your cervicogenic headache.

The expertise management of a physiotherapist is needed to derive a tailored treatment plan to target the root cause of your cervicogenic headache.  This might include manual therapy, dry needling or strengthening of your neck muscles.

It is important not to ignore your headache.  Do consult a physiotherapist or a medical practitioner for advice and guidance on how to manage your headache.

Written By: Arnold Tsang, Registered Physiotherapist, BSc (Hons) in Physiotherapy UK, HCPC.

Arnold is a skilled physiotherapist based in Jardine House, Central. He graduated with a Physiotherapy Degree from the UK and specialises in workplace-related pains, sports injuries and rehabilitation of traumatic orthopaedic surgeries.
If you are suffering from workplace-related pains and sports injuries issues, book an appointment with Arnold now.

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