What is Causing My Headache?

What is a "cervicogenic headache"? 

Headaches can develop through referred pain. Referred pain is pain that is felt in another part of the body other than the actual source of the pain. In the case of headaches, the pain that is thought to be felt in the head may actually be coming from the neck muscles. This type of headache that results from neck pain is known specifically as a cervicogenic headache



What caused my "neck pain" in the first place?

Here are some common causes of neck pain that can lead to a cervicogenic headache:

  • Poor posture: This includes having a forward neck and rounded shoulders that can excessively stretch and/or tighten the neck muscles
  • Prolonged/sustained positions at work
  • Facet joint dysfunction: The small protrusions from the sides of each vertebrae make up joints within the cervical column and have a proper way of moving. If those small bony connections do not move the right way or get stuck with certain movements, they can pinch certain structures in the neck such as a nerve and cause pain.
  • Arthritis in the cervical spine
  • Whiplash 
  • Strained/weak neck muscles
  • History of trauma to the neck 
  • Scoliosis
  • Sleeping posture

How do I know if I have a cervicogenic headache?

Here are some symptoms you might feel that can be associated with a cervicogenic headache:

  • Pain felt on one side of the head (temples), forehead or around eyes
  • Headaches triggered by neck movement
  • Pressure on certain parts of the neck
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Limited range of motion
  • Nausea or vomiting in severe cases

These are only some of the most common symptoms. However, it is difficult to diagnose since cervicogenic headaches can be easily mixed up with other types of headaches or migraines. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help from your local direct access physical therapists to accurately assess what may be causing your headache. 

How do I treat my cervicogenic headache?

Visit your direct access physical therapists @ Vital Step PT so they can provide the appropriate treatment that you need for your cervicogenic headache. PT treatment can include:

  • A personalized exercise program that will strengthen, increase range of motion, and relieve pain in the affected neck muscles
  • Manual therapy techniques: Physical therapists are trained in this type of technique where they use their hands to manipulate joints and/or relieve pressure in the soft tissue in your neck in order to correct any joint abnormalities and relieve pain. Manual therapy can include:
    • Suboccipital release
    • Cervical traction
    • Passive range of motion
    • Joint mobilization 
    • Soft tissue mobilization


  • Patient education: Physical therapists can educate you on what exactly is is causing your neck pain and how to prevent pain from returning. Patient education and treatment includes:
    • Correcting sitting/standing and sleeping posture
    • Correcting your posture at work including lifting/bending techniques 
    • Personalized home exercise program (HEP): An exercise program a PT can design for you addressing your specific problem so that you can easily perform and continue treatment at home.