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Cervicogenic Headache

About Cervicogenic Headaches

What Is A Cervicogenic Headache?

Cervicogenic headache is caused by a problem with of the structures of the neck which refers pain into the head. This can include the muscles, joints, ligaments, discs and nerves of the neck. This headache usually presents as unilateral pain that starts in the neck and refers up into the back of the head and can wrap around to as far as the eye. On occasion it can refer straight to the front of the forehead/eye region without pain in the back of the head.

Referral of pain occurs because the nerves from the neck and those from the head have a connection before they carry their messages to the brain. At times, the brain can be confused about where the message is coming from so a pain message from the neck can feel like pain in the head.

It is common after a traumatic injury to the neck such as a concussion or whiplash injury, however it can also be caused by excessive postural load which is all too common these days with computer screens and phones dominating our lives.

Cervicogenic Headache Diagnosis

How Do We Diagnose Cervicogenic Headache?

 can be difficult to distinguish cervicogenic headache from other types of headaches such as migraine and tension-type headache. However, the Cervicogenic Headache International Study Group (CHISG) describe the following criteria:

·         Unilateral (one sided) or unilaterally dominant – This does allow for milder symptoms to be felt on the other side (unevenly bilateral) but as the problem becomes more chronic the pain can become similar bilaterally.
·         Side-locked (does not swap sides).
·         Associated with neck, shoulder, or arm pain on the same side (ipsilateral).
·         Pain begins in the neck and headache is aggravated by neck movement or neck postures.
·         Associated symptoms such as light sensitivity and nausea are common with cervicogenic headache, but they are generally much less intense than the similar symptoms experienced with migraine.

Cervicogenic Headache Symptoms


Difficulty concentrating


Head Pain

Range from mild to severe pain

Neck pain

Reduced neck movements




Mild sensitivity to light and sound

Treating Cervicogenic Headaches With The Watson Headache® Approach

Cervicogenic Headache Treatment

The Watson Headache® Approach focuses on addressing the underlying mechanical dysfunctions in the upper neck that can be causing the referred pain to the head.

Skilled physiotherapists trained in the Watson Headache® Approach utilise specific manual techniques to assess and treat dysfunctions in the cervical spine causing cervicogenic headache. Effectively treating the dysfunction within the neck can alleviate cervicogenic headache quite quickly. Along with manual treatment, exercises are also prescribed to help the patient self-manage their problem as effectively as possible. 

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