June 2019 – Physiotherapy for cervicogenic headache

By Adrian Pranata

Headache is a common problem in society and is one of the most common reasons one would seek medical help. There are myriad causes of headaches ranging from stress, hormone imbalance, balance and sight problems to serious medical conditions such as a stroke or brain tumour. However, headaches can also be caused by problems in the neck. Neck disorder-related headache is termed cervicogenic headache (CH). CH usually presents as a dull ache that is projected from the neck to the left or right side of the head, behind the ear and may radiate as far as the eye on the same side. CH can be very disabling and may last for a few hours but it can recur 1-3 times in a week.

People with CH have also reported additional symptoms such as ringing in the ears, dizziness and restrictions with neck movement. CH is more common in females and has been seen in individuals as young as 6 to 40 years of age. It has been thought that CH is precipitated by sustained posture (e.g., sitting and sleeping) and physical trauma (e.g., car accident). These precipitating factors can irritate the nerves surrounding the upper neck joints which in turn would irritate nerves in the brainstem – which projects the signal to the head region resulting in painful sensation away from the neck.

Fortunately, CH can be treated effectively by physiotherapy. Physiotherapy management of CH is supported by high quality scientific research – which includes treatments of the neck joints, postural assessment and correction, neck muscle retraining and stretches, nerve exercises and advice on healthy work and lifestyle. Thus, early physiotherapy assessment and intervention is integral to optimise CH recovery.

It is not uncommon that CH is associated with tight neck and upper back musculatures. This gentle stretch can help alleviate the aches associated with tight muscles around the neck and upper back:
1. Gently bend your head forwards with one hand whilst guiding your chin towards your chest with the other until you start to feel a stretch at the back of the neck.
2. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 5 times daily.

If symptoms persist, Physiotherapists are available at Motion Health. Call 03 9825 2697 for further information.