Cervicogenic headache (CGH) happens when pain originating from a particular area in the neck spreads to the head. The pain often feels like a constant or dull ache, although it can intensify at times. Typically, CGH symptoms are confined to one side, affecting the neck, head, and/or face on that specific side.
CGH is a secondary headache that occurs because of a physical or neurologic condition that started first. CGH may be caused by trauma, such as fracture, dislocation, or whiplash injury, or an underlying medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, or infection. While the pain source is located in the cervical spine, CGH can be difficult to diagnose because pain is not always felt in the neck. CGH symptoms can also mimic primary headaches, such as migraine and tension-type headaches.
Cervicogenic Headache Pain
CGH often begins as sporadic pain before potentially developing into a constant ache. Key characteristics of CGH are:
- Pain that starts at the back of the neck and extends towards the forehead, around the eye, temple, and ear.
- Discomfort along the shoulder and arm on the same side.
- Limited neck movement.
- In some instances, swelling of the eye and blurred vision on the affected side.
- Pain typically impacts the same side of the neck and head, although, in rare instances, both sides might be involved.
How a Neck Problem Can Cause Cervicogenic Headache
In the region of the upper cervical spine, the trigeminocervical nucleus acts as a junction where sensory nerves from both the trigeminal nerve and the upper spinal nerves converge. The trigeminal nerve is key in transmitting facial pain, including sensations in the top of the head, forehead, eye, and temple area. When the upper spinal nerves detect pain related to CGH, this sensation is relayed to the trigeminal nerve fibers within the trigeminocervical nucleus, leading to pain perception in various parts of the head.
There are multiple ways pain can travel from the neck to the head, including:
- An injury to the atlanto-occipital joint, which is the connection between the base of the skull and the first cervical vertebra.
- Damage to a part of the cervical spine, such as a vertebra, facet joint, or disc.
- Cervical radiculopathy, which is caused by a pinched nerve in the upper spinal area.
- Injury to the muscles of the neck.
- Tumors located in the cervical region.
A common cause for CGH is whiplash injury resulting in pain shortly after the injury. CGH originating from whiplash may resolve in a few days or may last for years.
When Is Cervicogenic Headache Serious?
In certain instances, CGH might stem from serious underlying issues like tumors, bleeding, fractures, or arteriovenous malformation (an unusual linkage between arteries and veins) in the head or neck area. When this is the case, any of the following symptoms might also be observed:
- A noticeable change in headache pain, for example, an unbearable, severe headache
- Symptoms of nausea and vomiting
- Experiences of confusion or disorientation
- Headaches that occur in response to coughing or performing a Valsalva maneuver (forcing air out with the mouth closed and nostrils pinched)
- Stiffness and swelling in the neck
- Loss of sensation in the arms
Visiting Your Chiropractor
After considering these tips, if headaches are still occurring you should contact our Spartanburg chiropractic team at Converse Chiropractic today to schedule an appointment. With a simple spinal adjustment, the alignment of your vertebrae can reduce and eliminate your headache pain. At Converse Chiropractic our team can assist with any questions you may have.
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