Chiropractors have been successfully treating
headaches for over 100 years. The treatment of headaches is the third most
common reason, next to low back and neck pain, for consults to chiropractors. There
are over 100 different types of headache and most of them are rare and
difficult to diagnose and treat. Fortunately
the most common headaches are generated
from abnormal function of the joints and muscles of the neck and are very
The term cervicogenic
headache was introduced in 1983 to describe headaches which are generated from abnormal function of the
joints and muscles of the neck. These are possibly the most common
headaches encountered in medical and chiropractic practices. The term cervicogenic
headache does not implicate one disease process or tissue of the neck but
refers to any condition of the neck that causes headache. Most commonly,
disruption of the joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles of the upper part of
the neck are responsible for this type of headache. Trauma to the head and neck
or whiplash and poor posture are the most common causes of cervicogenic
headache. It has been well documented that chiropractic spinal manipulation of
the joints can relieve these symptoms.
There are many different types
of cervicogenic headaches. The subtle differences depend on the tissue
generating the referred pain. A variety of trigger points in the neck muscles can
refer dull pain to different parts of the head.
Even though these headaches tend to recur on one side of the head they can
shift from side to side or to other parts of the head. It is possible to have
more than one joint or muscle causing headaches in different parts of the head at
the same or at different times.
Cervicogenic headaches are generally experienced
frequently. They can occur daily and persist for months at a time until treated
with appropriate chiropractic care. The intensity varies from mild to moderate
to severe. They are aggravated by movement and relieved by rest. Cervicogenic
headaches are not associated with serious underlying pathology. You do not die
from them - you only feel like dying.
Migraine type symptoms can be referred to the head
from the neck. These headaches vary in intensity and can be severe and
throbbing. They can be associated with nausea, vomiting, phonophobia (sensitivity
to noise) and photophobia (sensitivity to light) - all features that are
associated with common and classic migraines. This type of migraine is called a
and common migraines occur less frequently than cervicogenic migraine - less
than one episode per month. Classic and common migraines do not vary in
intensity - they are typically described as severe, excruciating or
debilitating. Common analgesic medication, like Aspro and Panadol, typically do
not relieve classic or common migraine but in the early stages they can relieve
all types of cervicogenic headaches. Tolerance to medication, however, may
happen with continued use and in time may provide no benefit to cervicogenic
headache sufferers. Migraines tend to last from 4 - 24 hours while cervicogenic
headaches may last from 3 hours to 3 weeks.
45% of adults report suffering severe or disabling headaches.
40% of headache patients experience two or more different types of headaches. For
example, they can suffer classic migraine and a variety of cervicogenic migraine
The majority of headaches are not life threatening
and are well managed with conservative chiropractic care. The patient’s
response to manipulation and soft tissue therapy of the neck frequently helps
to distinguish between migraine and cervicogenic headaches. As a rule of thumb,
chiropractic care relieves cervicogenic migraines / headaches but has minimal
lasting effect on migraine or pathology based headaches. Headache that continue
to recur at their normal frequency regardless of the frequency or type of
chiropractic care received generally require medical or surgical care.