Cervicogenic headache is a common type of head pain that occurs in approximately 2.5% of the U.S. population. Occipital (back of the head) headaches generally occur from problems in the neck, especially the upper part of the neck. The pain originates in the neck, but it can radiate up to the head and cause head pain- called cervicogenic headache.

The headache usually radiates from the neck to the occipital area (back of the head), to the temples, or around the eyes. It can be on one side of the head (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral). The pain is often described as dull, aching, and is aggravated with head/neck movement . Poor posture, looking up, or looking down for long periods of time can trigger or worsen the head pain. Some people who have desk jobs or look up or down for long periods of time can have cervicogenic headache. Generalized muscle tension can also result in headaches that radiate from the neck up to the head.

The pain of cervicogenic headache can be due to problems in the neck, such as cervical discs disease, facet joint degeneration (arthritis), ligaments that become less stretchy, or from muscular spasm. The pain can come from any area of the neck, but commonly originates from the upper ( C2-3, C3-4) joints or discs.  Pain can also occur from unstable areas in the upper two joints (atlanto-occipital and atlanto-axial joints), and is called “atlanto-axial instability”.

Common causes of Cervicogenic headache can include:

Degenerative changes: or age-related changes in the cervical discs or joints

Kyhposis -reversal of cervical curvature

Whiplash injury

Nerve compression– typically from a herniated cervical disc that puts pressure on a neck nerve

If you think you have cervicogenic headache or other neck problems, the providers at the Neurosurgery Center of Colorado may be able to help. Call today for an appointment for evaluation.

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