5 Signs that your Headache or Migraine is Cervicogenic

Taking the Guess Work Out of Headache and Migraine Treatment


Ever been told to simply take a painkiller to treat your headache or migraine?

There are many medical cause for headaches and migraines, each requiring very different interventions. The most important skill in managing headaches and migraines is diagnosing what the actual cause of the headache is and to direct the appropriate treatment, rather than merely treating the symptoms.  

At the Headache, Neck and Jaw Clinic, we specialise in treating Cervicogenic Headaches, which are headaches and migraines that have their origin in the Cervical Spine, the medical term for the neck. We can determine if your headache is cervicogenic simply by taking a thorough history of your symptoms, as they will likely follow some classic patterns and rules.  Once we establish whether your headache has a cervicogenic component, we then do a series of safe and accurate diagnostic tests to determine the exact origin of your pain.  

We take the guesswork out of what is causing your headaches or migraines and if it is cervicogenic, we can start treating the actual problem, today, for long-lasting, drug-free symptom relief.

5 Signs Your Headache or Migraine is Caused by Your Neck and Treatable with Specialised Physio

  1. Worse on one side or swaps sides. The first clue that your headache or migraine is cervicogenic is exactly where you feel your pain.  Problems in and from the neck are rarely symmetrical.  Cervicogenic headache symptoms are normally worse on the side the neck   is rotated towards.  You can certainly have pain on both sides, but one side will be generally more intense or more frequent.  Headaches that swap sides are almost exclusively cervicogenic in nature.

  2. Started or escalated after a trauma. Another clue that your headache or migraine

        is cervicogenic in origin is whether the pain started after an accident (motor

        vehicle, trip and fall, water-skiing etc) or an intervention (dental extraction,

        general anaesthetic etc) where unnatural stress was placed on your neck.  Even

        if you already had some headache symptoms that escalated in intensity or

        frequency after an accident, this is a good indication that there is a mechanical

        fault in your neck and correcting this will lead to a positive change in your


  3.  Accompanied by neck pain or stiffness. Not surprisingly, a classic sign that your

       headache or migraine is coming from your neck is the experience of neck pain

       and/or stiffness preceding or during your episode.  Because the origin of the pain

       is actually your neck, it makes sense that you would experience neck symptoms,

       however during a migraine or severe headache, we tend to focus our attention

       on the intense head, face or eye pain first rather than the dull neck pain.

       Interestingly, when we start treatment, as the pain in the head and the face

       recedes, it can become more apparent exactly how stiff and restricted your

       neck actually is.  This is because the brainstem that registers pain starts to

       identify that the cause of the pain is actually the neck, rather than the head, so it

       starts to express the pain in the area that is actually compromised. As treatment

       continues, neck restriction and pain will also be relieved.  

  4.  Medication doesn’t work like it used to. Cervicogenic headaches will always

       have a neural feedback problem or sensitivity.  For the neck to refer pain into

       the head, the nerves have changed and will generate a pain response to something

       that wouldn’t bother someone with cervicogenic headaches, like sitting in the

       front row of the movies. Medications work to change these sensitivities, effectively

       increasing the pain threshold so the brain no longer sees the stimulus as a problem.

       Unfortunately, medications generally become ineffective with long term use because medications don’t treat the problem, only the

       symptoms. Generally, if left untreated, your pain threshold will continue to “sensitise” or reduce over time and become so low that           even taking medication won’t increase the pain threshold high enough so that the brain gets itself out of trouble. The medications    

       still “work” but the base they work off is so low they become ineffective and there is no perception of change.  

  5.  Triggered by long periods of sitting. Neck headaches generally have a mechanical component, so it makes sense that the longer 

       you sit in one position, the more fatigue and stress is going to be passed through your neck and the more irritated it becomes.  

       Headaches that come on as the day goes by are quite often directly related to your strength and tolerance to sitting and standing.        If you adopt the strategy of removing yourself from the environment and going for a walk or a lie down to change your headache, 

       you have self-diagnosed a cervicogenic headache. However, if your headache is present whether you sit, stand, or lie, then 

       chances are there is something else causing it and we need to assess your neck to refer you to the appropriate care.



If you have one or more of these signs, you need to get your neck assessed by a physiotherapist who specialises in treating cervicogenic headaches.  Neck treatment is safe and no cracking techniques are used.  We can generally tell if your neck is the real cause of your headaches and migraines after the first session and you will see a noticeable change in your symptoms by 3 to 4 sessions.  

If we determine your headaches or migraines are not cervicogenic and treatable with specialised physio, we can assist you in finding the right person to help with your care in our extensive professional network of medical specialists.

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