Many headache sufferers have seen their GP, a neurologist or other specialists and have had numerous medical investigations, including an MRI or CT scan, which have detected no abnormalities. This may be because scans don’t show what happens when joints and soft tissues are moving.
There are over 300 types of headache, including tension headache, cervicogenic headache, migraines and cluster headaches, but many have very similar symptoms. Pain that is experienced in the head or face and originates from the joints or soft tissue in the neck is known as a cervicogenic headache. The nerves from this area in the spine have a direct link with the part of the brain that is associated with headaches.
Cervicogenic headaches may occur as a direct result following trauma e.g. post road traffic accident, a fall onto the neck or shoulder or a direct compression onto the top of the head. They may also be a result of poor working and or sleeping posture and repetitive or sustained activities e.g. cycling, racquet sports or holding a heavy bag on one shoulder. Stress, age and degenerative conditions are also contributing factors.
Cervicogenic headaches may respond to physiotherapy treatment often with very effective results. Physiotherapists have the necessary manual therapy skills to assess and treat these joint and soft tissue problems.
The general profile for a cervicogenic headache:-
Normally accompanied by posterior head / neck pain which may radiate to the temples, eyes or eyebrows.
Ache of moderate intensity.
Normally associated with sustained neck postures (work position), tension or neck pain and movement.
Often wake up with a headache but may worsen throughout the day.
Often a frequent prolonged history of headaches.
Normally pain is unilateral but can be bilateral.
Pain may coincide with the menstrual cycle in females.
Dizziness, nausea, light headedness, inability to concentrate and visual disturbances are commonly mentioned.
The aims of physiotherapy are to identify the source of the pain thus enabling effective treatment. Following a detailed assessment we would be able to determine whether any structures in your neck are referring pain into your head and or face. If this were the case then manual therapy treatment in the form of passive mobilisation to the joints combined with soft tissue work would be performed. Identifying and addressing any influencing factors, e.g. posture correction, ergonomic assessment would also be discussed.
Physiotherapy for cervicogenic headaches is available at the Wimbledon Physiotherapy Clinic with our headache specialist, Antonia Patrick, or any other of our physiotherapy team.