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5 Cervicogenic Headache Treatment Options

In this article we’ll outline five cervicogenic headache treatment options that you can try if you suffer from these severe headaches.

cervicogenic headache treatment options

Cervicogenic Headache vs Migraine

A cervicogenic headache is a headache caused by nerve irritation in the spine of the neck (the cervical area). A cervicogenic headache is often confused with a migraine as pain from a migraine may radiate down into the neck. However, the key difference is that a cervicogenic headache is caused by an issue in the cervical region of the spine, whereas a migraine can be caused by a number of other issues.

Diagnosing Cervicogenic Headaches (CGH)

Understanding whether pain from the head is radiating down into the neck or pain from the neck is radiating up into the head (as with a CGH) can be difficult. A doctor or physical therapist can often diagnose the patient through careful evaluation of their symptoms and some range of motion tests.

However, even if the cause can be narrowed down to the cervical region of the spine, medical imaging tests may be required to truly understand what is happening within the spine to cause the nerve irritation. For example, osteoarthritis, an injury like whiplash, or poor posture are some of the things which could cause nerve irritation in the spine and lead to CGH’s.

Cervicogenic Headache Treatment Options

Even without understanding the physiological source of the irritation, cervicogenic headaches can be treated. Here are some different treatment options which can provide relief from a CGH:

1. Anti-Inflammatory Medication

Non-steroid anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofin can help reduce inflammation. Reduced inflammation in the area around the spinal cord may relieve some of the pressure on the nerves that are causing the headaches.

2. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

During TENS therapy a machine is used to deliver electrical impulses to the nerves in the area causing pain. A 2007 study of individuals with cervicogenic headaches showed that although TENS therapy reduced the intensity of the headaches it had no effect on their frequency, how long they lasted or the patients’ range of motion. This study suggested that physical therapy was more successful in the treatment of the CGH.

3. Exercise and/or Physical Therapy

Exercising and physical therapy can help loosen joints, improve posture and increase muscle strength. By increasing muscle strength, individuals can reduce the amount of pressure on the spinal joints in that area. One study showed that exercise and physical therapy combined provide more relief than either one on its own.

4. Massage or Chiropractic Therapy

Manual manipulation of the joints in the spine’s neck region has been shown to provide short to pain relief to some CGH sufferers.

5. Steroid Injection

If other cervicogenic headache treatment methods haven’t provided relief, your doctor may recommend a cervical epidural steroid injection. During this procedure, a doctor inserts a needle into the space around your spinal cord and injects a corticosteroid. (A local anesthetic is often mixed with the steroid for additional pain relief.)




*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery