Cervicogenic Headache – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Cervicogenic Headache is believed to account for 14 to 18% of all cases of chronic headache. Read and know all about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

Cervicogenic Headache Definition

It is a condition that involves partial displacement of a bone in the neck gives rise to headaches, especially those classified under muscle tension headaches.

Cervicogenic Headache ICD 9 Code

The ICD 9 Code for Cervicogenic Headache is 307.81.

Cervicogenic Headache Signs and Symptoms

Patients of these types of headaches usually suffer from discomfort within the cervical backbone, neck and upper shoulders. In most cases, suffering individuals experience problems like one-sided pain in the head. Many suffer from pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulder. Headache can occur on the same side of the arm and shoulder where pain originates.

Often, patients suffer from a pain in the neck or back of the head that shifts forward to the temples or the forehead. Pain may differ in intensity from person to person. Some patients may suffer from a dull pain while others may experience a piercing headache.

Cervicogenic Headache and Migraines

Some people with this headache can be a little sensitive to light and sound. Some can also suffer from nausea and vomiting along with acute pain. This can make it difficult to distinguish such headaches from migraine. Often, there is some overlap between the symptoms of Cervicogenic Headache and migraine. Sufferers of migraine often describe neck pain as a migraine trigger. In such cases, migraine-specific medicines might be used for curing headaches that seem to arise from a problem in the neck.

Cervicogenic Headache Causes

This headache is typically a result of compression of or injury to the occipital nerves. A number of factors can cause this nervous problem and act as causes of Cervicogenic Headache (CH). These include

  • Excessive stiffness of neck muscles
  • Trauma to the head
  • Inflammation resulting from an infection
  • Osteoarthritis of the spine
  • Compression of the nerves by a tumor
  • Disorders, such as Vasculitis or Diabetes
  • Frequent activities that involve downward positioning of the head, such as while reading a book

Many people are found to suffer from this condition due to a spinal problem that involves when pain radiates from the cervical spine region (the spinal bones located in the neck).

Cervicogenic Headache Diagnosis

The International Headache Society has established a set of diagnostic criteria that includes various signs and symptoms of the Cervicogenic Headache. As aforesaid, the diagnosis of this condition can be difficult owing to its similarity to migraine.

A local anaesthetic is sometimes injected into the muscles located in the rear part of the head. This serves to obstruct the greater occipital nerve temporarily and reduce pain in many people. As the results are temporary, this method is regarded as a diagnostic test and not a treatment procedure. Other injections such as medial branch blocks and facet joint injections can also help diagnose the condition in a similar fashion.

Cervicogenic Headache Treatment Options

The exact way of treating this problem is a subject of much debate. Medical researchers are still on in their attempt to find the best curative approach for this condition. Treatment should ideally focus on the neck. In most cases, this involves exercise and physiotherapy. These help strengthen the deep muscles that help stabilize the spine.

Know about some of the primary medical approaches used for the treatment of Cervicogenic Headache.


Medications used for curing this problem include anti-convulsants or anti-depressants. These drugs change the response of nerve fibers in such a way that patients do not experience pain with accumulative use. They have, however, been found to benefit only modestly from this approach. Cure is often ineffective if these are the only options used for treatment.

Unfortunately, there are no specific medicines to address Cervicogenic Headache. In some patients, over-the-counter drugs such as analgesics (Acetaminophen) or anti-inflammatory medicines can reduce the intensity of a headache or stop the problem altogether. Opioids can be considered if acute headache begins affecting function. However, none of these drugs should be used for more than 10 days in a month. Else, patients may suffer from a headache due to medication overuse.


Manipulative therapies such as chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy and spinal manipulation are believed to be the most effective therapeutic treatments for the condition. Neck exercises, conducted under an expert, can also bring relief to the region and cure headaches with time.


Many medical researchers have studied many types of injections for Cervicogenic headache cure. These include local anaesthetics, Botulinum toxin (Botox) and steroids which are injected into different structures in the neck. Anesthetic injections can help temporarily alleviate pain from the neck.

Muscle relaxants

In some cases, muscle relaxants have been found to provide CH patients with relief from pain caused by the condition. Presently, further research is being conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of this type of treatment.


Occasionally, in extremely acute cases, spinal surgery may be performed to cure this problem. Surgery helps relieve compression of the cervical spine. In some cases, however, there can be a recurrence of pain after surgery. Due to this, surgeons only use this operative technique on patients suffering from the most acute cases of CH. However, no study has convincingly reported of an improvement in headache after operation.

Cervicogenic Headache Relief

Cervicogenic Headache remedy is also said to be possible with the aid of non-drug therapies. According to medical studies, non-drug therapies can help decrease the intensity of pain and enhance ability to cope with headaches. The therapy includes self-management strategies, such as:

  • Pacing activities
  • Meditation
  • Relaxation
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy

These methods are said to help improve functioning of patients to help them be more active and have a more normal life.

If you seem to be suffering from unmanageable headaches that originate at the back of the neck, contact your doctor immediately. If left untreated, these headaches can be difficult to get rid of. You should get a spinal evaluation carried out to check whether any structural problems are developing within the spine.






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