Cervical headache

Cervical headache

The neck is a common region to cause headaches. Cervicogenic headaches or Cervical headache as they are known, are terms used to describe a headache that is secondary to a problem in the neck. This includes dysfunction of the joints, muscles, fascia and nerves of the neck. Find out more about this issue and how we treat it at Harris & Ross here-



Causes of a cervical headache are varied. They may develop due to problems with the joints of the neck, the intervertebral disc between C2 and C3, and the neck muscles. Problems in these areas can cause pain messages to be fired off to the Trigeminal-Cervical Nucleus (TCN) in your brainstem. This information is then made sense of in the brain as a headache.


Structures at fault

The structures at fault include:

  • Dysfunction of joints of the upper 3 segments of the neck, for example being overly stiff or overly mobile in the the facet joints of the neck
  • Irritation of the nerves in the uppermost part of the neck – this can occur as a result of disc bulge, swelling or osteo-arthritis
  • Muscle imbalance – for example poor posture. If muscles of the neck, shoulder blade and upper back are under more tension and/or are weak this can lead to headaches


These structures may become problematic following:

  • An acute injury such as whiplash
  • Repetitive trauma, for example repetitive movements in the workplace or through sport


Risk factors

Other risk factors include:


  • Poor flexibility of the joints in the neck and upper back
  • Tightness in muscles at the base of the neck (suboccipital muscles) as well as other muscles of the shoulder girdle, neck and upper back
  • Poor posture
  • Muscle weakness (notably of the Deep neck flexors)
  • Joint stiffness
  • Stress


Signs and Symptoms

Common symptoms of a cervical headache include:

  • Dull ache that may be one side or both sides of the head
  • Often of gradual onset
  • Headache may be intermittent or constant
  • Tenderness at the top of the neck or base of the skull
  • Often describe pain as a pulling or gripping sensation, or a tight band around the head
  • Neck stiffness
  • Repetitive movements or sustained postures may exacerbate
  • May be associated with lightheadedness, dizziness, tinnitus or nausea



Treatment of patients with cervicogenic headache include correction of the findings on assessment attributed to be causing the headache, including:

  • Stopping or modifying aggravating activities
  • Strengthening muscles of the neck, shoulder and upper back
  • Stretching muscles
  • Mobilising stiff joints
  • Muscle re-training
  • Soft tissue therapy to tight muscles and fascia
  • Dry needling
  • Postural retraining
  • Techniques to help reduce stress

To make an appointment for an initial physio assessment at our Wilmslow, Manchester, Altrincham or Wigan clinics, and discuss a treatment plan for a Cervical Headache issue call Harris & Ross on 0161 832 9000 or click the book now icon below