Tag Archive: whiplash


The causes of cervicogenic headache are varied and typically depend on the problem in the structure of the neck. Various causes are described below:

  • Degenerative changes: The most common cause of cervicogenic headache is degenerative change (arthritis) in the neck (cervical spine). These are natural aging changes that cause bony spur formation, pressure on the nerves, and laxity/hardening of the ligaments.
  • Kyhposis (reversal of cervical curvature): The neck normally has a gentle C-shaped curve (lordosis) that allows the neck to curve slightly backwards. This normal position keeps the head in balance and reduces neck strain. As our discs dry out, they lose some of their height , resulting in straightening of the neck neck.  In some cases, the neck angles forward instead of backward. This causes greater strain on the muscles at the back of the neck, and results in occipital headache.
  • Whiplash: This is an injury that occurs from the head being “whipped” back/forth quickly. The mechanism of injury is from the head moving in a flexion/extension motion. The most common type of Whiplash injury is due to motor vehicle crash or contact sports injury (such as football or soccer). Headaches following whiplash are very common and have been reported in 80% of persons at 2 months following whiplash injury. Even 2 years after a whiplash injury, 20-25% of persons will still have headaches
  • Nerve compression: A common cause of nerve compression is degenerative disc disease, or arthritis in the neck. As the spine ages, and the discs lose their height, the small joints on the sides become more narrow. The nerves then have less room to travel through the joint, resulting in pressure on specific nerves. Another cause can be from a herniated disc in the neck that causes pressure on a specific nerve. Less commonly, nerve compression may be due to other causes such as tumors or abnormal fluid cavities in the spinal cord.

Tune in next week  to read about the risk factors for causing CERVICOGENIC HEADACHE.

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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.