Dealing with symptoms of cervicogenic headaches (CGH) can leave a person feeling hopeless as they suffer through the pain. It can also cause them to misdiagnose their symptoms and go overboard on over-the-counter pain medications to help mitigate the pain and discomfort they feel.
Identifying cervicogenic headaches is the first step to reducing symptoms and recovery. An experienced physiotherapist to help identify the root cause of your pain is crucial to relieving the pain. North 49 Physical Therapy in Saskatoon, SK has helped many patients suffering from CGH reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Identifying Common Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headaches
Pain from CGH normally affects areas of the left or right side of the head. The following are typical symptoms that occur when suffering from CGH:
- Pain that originates at the back of your neck. From there it can radiate to your forehead, temples, behind your eyes, and sometimes to your left or right ear
- Limited neck mobility
- Loss of vision or blurred vision in one eye
Less Common Symptoms
There are many common symptoms that one can expect from CGH. There are also secondary symptoms that, while uncommon, do sometimes pop up. These can include nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light, and difficulty swallowing. It’s also worth noting that chronic migraines and tension headaches often share some of the same characteristics as CGH.
How are Cervicogenic Headaches different?
CGH is different from the regular headaches because the pain they emit is known as “referred pain”. This means that while you may feel pain in one part of the body, the source of the pain is another. The root cause of CGH is a physical problem that involves the joints in the neck. It can also be due to problems with the tissues (i.e. muscles, ligaments) surrounding these areas.
The upper neck and back of the head contain a large number of physical structures that are sensitive to pain. A common problem area for headaches is the part of the neck that connects to the skull. It is at this junction that we find joints, ligaments, nerve roots, and blood vessels that can generate pain when injured or when simply loaded for prolonged periods of time.
How Neck Injuries or Prolonged Postures Can Result in Cervicogenic Headaches
The trigeminocervical nucleus, located in the upper cervical spine area, merges many sensory nerve fibers that stem from the trigeminal nerve and upper spinal nerves. The trigeminal nerve controls the pain you feel in your face, as well as your forehead, eye, temple area, and the top of your head. Pain is shifted to the trigeminal nerve fibers when the upper spinal nerves sense pain due to CGH.
The transfer of pain from the neck to the head can occur as a result of several factors. One possible reason is an injury to the neck. Age related changes, inactivity, and prolonged postures can also cause stress on the neck, resulting in CGH.
How Serious Can Cervicogenic Headaches Get?
Although CGH is often caused by neck injuries or poor posture, there are also more serious conditions that can also cause it to occur. These far more serious conditions can include tumors, hemorrhages, or an arteriovenous malformation in the head or neck, referring to an abnormal connection of arteries and veins in this area of the body.
When one of these causes are behind the CGH pain you feel, the symptoms can be considerably worse. The headache pain itself can grow so severe that it becomes intolerable. Your mind and judgment can also be negatively affected as this level of pain can result in disorientation and confusion. Stiffness and swelling in the neck and arm numbness have also been reported as common symptoms due to more severe causes of CGH. Anyone who is suffering from these kinds of symptoms should seek medical attention right away.
Who Is More Likely to Suffer From these Headaches?
Certain common denominators can help identify who is more likely to suffer an injury or condition that could result in a person having to deal with CGH. For example, occupations such as hairstylists, drivers, and construction workers put themselves at a higher risk simply because of their head and body posture while on the job. Athletes, namely powerlifters, wrestlers, and bodybuilders, who constantly exert heavy force on their bodies are also prime candidates for this condition.
But in some cases, it’s not a person who is in a precarious position on the job or an athlete cleaning and jerking their one-rep max. CGH can be caused by constant forward head postures, such as hunching over a laptop or sitting awkwardly in front of the TV day. It’s safe to say that constant bad posture is a prime causes of CGH.
The Best Ways to Prevent
If you are already dealing with symptoms of CGH, there are many self-care steps you can implement to prevent them from getting worse. These same methods can also help prevent CGH from occurring in the first place. First, ensure that your posture when performing exercise, housework, or on the job does not put your head and neck in a precarious position. It’s also important to be conscious of your position when doing sedentary activities like driving, reading, or sitting in front of a computer or TV. For advice on setting up your office workplace click here.
Ergonomic pillows are a great way to help give your head and neck the support they need while you sleep. If you travel frequently, a high-quality travel pillow will save you a lot of pain and discomfort. For further information about some simple steps to ensure you are sleeping with good posture click here.
Ways to Treat Cervicogenic Headaches
Self-care techniques are only part of the process of treating CGH symptoms and getting to the root cause. There are other medical methods that, under professional supervision, can deliver excellent results in reducing symptoms such as medication use and nerve blocks. These options, however, do little to address the cause of the problem and only mask the symptoms.
Physiotherapy, advice on posture, and specific exercise routines can help strengthen areas of weakness, loosen up tight tissue, and reduce uneven loading on the neck that may causing the pain. By implementing this type of treatment, a person suffering from CGH can address the root cause of their pain.
Move Better & Live Better
The constant pain of living with a cervicogenic headache can turn a person’s life upside down. This can rob them of simple happiness and peace of mind in their daily life. If you have been diagnosed with CGH, don’t lose hope! There is still a way to treat your symptoms while dealing with the root cause. Call North 49 Physical Therapy today and book your consultation and put yourself on the road to recovery.