By Nicholas Maggio, PT, DPT, Lancaster, PA Center
What manifests as a headache actually could be coming from your neck. It’s what is known as a cervicogenic headache.
Luckily, cervicogenic headaches can be reduced, eliminated, or prevented with physical therapy exercises at home.
A cervicogenic headache is specifically when your upper cervical spine – your neck –sends pain into your head via the local nervous system.1,2 These headaches can begin rapidly with an injury or can develop over time from prolonged poor posture, degenerative arthritis, or decreased cervical muscle strength or length.
The workplace is a major culprit, specifically with jobs that require repetitive head movements, frequent heavy lifting, or prolonged sitting postures at a desk or computer screen. Many of these factors can be seen at home, as well, with the heavy lifting of yardwork, bending and reaching into cabinets, or simply sitting with poor posture while watching television. Even sleeping can put your neck into a poor position and create a headache.
First, it is important to identify whether your headache truly is coming from your neck. If you do not have neck pain, have never had a neck injury, or do not participate in any of the previously mentioned activities, then you may have a different type of headache and the following exercises may not be appropriate. If you are not sure, your doctor or physical therapist can help you differentiate.
Patients who experience cervicogenic headaches often demonstrate similar underlying factors that could include, but are not limited to forward head posture, limited neck range of motion, poor flexibility surrounding the cervical spine, and poor deep neck flexor strength.3 It is important to note that these factors vary for everybody.
Please see the below video for demonstrations of the following exercises that can help address the underlying causes of your cervicogenic headache.
Work demands and activities at home can predispose you to developing poor habits and posture. These tips will help you avoid injury, improve your posture, and reduce your risk of developing a cervicogenic headache:
Cervicogenic headaches are manageable if properly identified and addressed. A physical therapist can help with this process.Please contact your local Drayer Physical Therapy Institute center if you suspect you have a cervicogenic headache and would like more specific physical therapy intervention on your way to reduced or abolished headaches!