There are many different types of headaches that exist, each with their own causes and symptoms.
Cervicogenic headaches are caused by a dysfunction in either the muscles, joints or nerves in the upper cervical spine. Symptoms include pain on one side of the head, tenderness in the upper part of the neck, and increased symptoms with specific head movements or postures. Did you know that physiotherapy can treat this issue and help decrease both headache frequency and intensity?
A Short Anatomy Lesson
Certain structures in the upper neck can refer pain into the head. Pain referral happens when a painful structure (muscle, joint or other body part) sends pain signals elsewhere in the body. A common example of referred pain is when a person is having a heart attack; they may feel pain in the left arm or left side of the body, when the pain actually originates in the heart.
Muscles in the neck can refer pain throughout the back, top and sides of the head and even into the forehead area. Facet joints, which are the small joints between each vertebrae in the neck, can also refer pain to these areas. The sub occipital nerve, commonly referred to as Arnold’s nerve, can also send pain signals up the back of the skull.
Common Causes of Cervicogenic Headache Pain
Since cervicogenic headaches can have many different causes, it is important to determine how the headaches started, and why they reoccur. Some common causes are: degenerative conditions such as arthritis, traumatic causes such as whiplash or head and neck trauma from sports injuries or falls. These conditions can cause restriction of mobility of the joints in the spine as well as strains or injuries to the muscles in the neck, which can result in weakness, muscle tightness and pain. Some people will even develop cervicogenic headaches due to sustained postures.
CAMPT-Certified physiotherapists are experts in orthopedic manual therapy and have extensive training on how to manage spinal pain. A CAMPT-Certified therapist will be able to determine if your headache is likely cervicogenic in origin, and if so, exactly what structures those symptoms are coming from. They will be able to determine if your headache is due to muscle weakness, muscle tension, joint restriction, or nerve pain. Your physiotherapist will be able to assess your spine in detail, and propose a personalized and specific treatment plan based on the assessment findings. This may include manual techniques, home exercises for stretching, strengthening or posture as needed. Most importantly, your CAMPT-Certified physio will also be able to recognize potentially worrisome symptoms, and refer you to a physician as required.
Many cases of cervicogenic headache can be managed with non-invasive treatment, and a CAMPT-Certified physiotherapist can help decrease your pain and get you back to the lifestyle that you enjoy.
About Sarah El Queisi
Sarah is a licensed, CAMPT-Certified physiotherapist specializing in the management of vestibular and orthopedic injuries. Sarah’s clinical work is focused on caring for people with concussion and persistent post-concussion symptoms, a challenging field which integrates her two areas of expertise. She has also been active in the development of an interdisciplinary concussion care program and has recently opened her own clinic in downtown Montreal, Physiothérapie Avantex.
Sarah is also an accomplished long-distance runner and triathlete. She loves working with athletes of all levels, from weekend-warriors to professionals. You can find out more about her at www.physioavantex.com or on her social media channels (Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn).