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What are Cervicogenic Headaches?

Not all neck restrictions have associated headaches.  Most of the time a pain in the neck is just that, but if your neural system becomes stressed or involved, the pain in the neck can be carried along other sensory nerves and expressed as pain in your head.

Cervicogenic headache occurs when the mechanical restriction in your neck causes a neural sensitivity of the trigeminal nerve. By definition, cervicogenic headache is when the origin of the pain in your head, is your neck. The top two vertebrae are the most common culprits, and the symptoms are quite classic, and easily identifiable, if you know what to look for. 

Signs and Symptoms

If the headache is located on one side of your head, it is almost guaranteed to be a cervicogenic headache. If your headache swaps sides, it is a guarantee your neck is involved.  A cervicogenic headache can start on one side and progress to both sides of your head when it gets worse.

Another clue your neck is involved is there is commonly associated neck pain and stiffness that escalates during your headache. Posture is the leading cause of cervicogenic headaches so a headache that gets worse as the day goes on is another classic sign.  Neck injuries and trauma can also be the cause of cervicogenic headaches.

Physiotherapy Assessment

Clinically, we will assess your neck by feeling the different vertebral segments to determine which ones are involved and we can work this out two ways, depending on whether you have an active headache.

  • If you have an active headache during your session, we will do hands on techniques to change the neck alignment and posture and change your headache.  If we can clear or reduce your headache symptoms, we can diagnose cervicogenic headache
  • If you don’t have any current symptoms, we can safely apply pressure to different vertebral segments (not muscles) in your neck. If they reproduce your headache symptoms, and then the symptoms resolve within 10 to 20 seconds, we can also diagnose cervicogenic headaches. Reproducing your headache symptoms doing this neck technique proves they are coming from your neck. 

Physiotherapy Treatment and Safety

We rely on a “hands on” assessment and treatment approach assessment.  All our techniques are safe and slow, and we don’t crack joints.  We work with you and your pain tolerances to get the best outcomes for you.  Even though a key treatment strategy can involve safely reproducing your symptoms, the “no pain, no gain!” approach just doesn’t apply when it comes to headaches.

Treatment is a combination of changing the biomechanical dysfunction in your neck and also reprogramming your neural pathways so that a normal stimulus stops giving you a noxious response. We will explain why we prescribe any exercises and come up with an exercise plan that is achievable based on what you can commit to.  Click here to book online and find out just how much of a pain in the head your neck really is.

Headache, Neck & Jaw Conditions We Treat

Our Brisbane clinics specialise in the treatment of head, neck and jaw conditions, many of which are notoriously difficult to treat. If you’re experiencing symptoms of any of the following problems, our team has the expertise and training to help.



Jaw and Orofacial Pain

Neck Pain and Trauma

Whiplash and Nerve Pain

Vertigo & Dizziness


Singing / Vocal


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