Cervicogenic headache is the term used to describe a headache that is caused by dysfunction in the neck. Overall, between 14-17.8% of patients with frequent headaches are believed to suffer from headaches of this nature.

The following is a list of clinical characteristics common among those struggling with cervicogenic headaches:

  1. Unilateral (one-sided) head or face pain (rarely is it on both sides).
  2. Pain is localized or stays in one spot, usually the back of the head, frontal, temporal (side), or orbital (eye) regions.
  3. Moderate-to-severe pain intensity.
  4. Intermittent attacks of pain that can last for hours or even days.
  5. Pain is usually deep and non-throbbing, unless migraines occur at the same time.
  6. Head pain is triggered by neck movement, sustained awkward head postures, applying deep pressure to the base of the skull or upper neck region, and/or taking a deep breath, cough or sneeze can trigger head pain.
  7. Limited neck motion with stiffness.

A 2007 study (Funct Neurol 2007;22:145; Drottning M, Staff PH, Sjaastad O) looked at causes of cervicogenic headaches, specifically whiplash injuries of the neck. In this study, 587 whiplash patients were followed over a six-year period. About 8% of the whiplash sufferers developed a cervicogenic headache within six weeks of the initial trauma. Thirty-five percent of these patients were still suffering six years later. 

If you suffer from headaches and believe yours may originate from a musculoskeletal issue in your neck, a doctor of chiropractic can perform a comprehensive examination of your spine to see if sprains are present in either your cervical or thoracic joints and he or she will also review whether you’ve suffered a past trauma that could have affected the posture and mobility of these delicate spinal structures.