The Global Burden of Disease study ranks headache disorders as the 2nd leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide (Saylor and Steiner 2018). Three common types of headaches exist: migraines, tension-type headaches or cervicogenic headaches.
Cervicogenic headaches are secondary headaches that are related to a disorder in the upper joints of the neck. It is a referred pain, meaning the pain is perceived to be felt in the head, although the source of the pain is the neck. Similarly, cervicogenic dizziness is characterised as dizziness or “vertigo”-like symptoms that are a result of upper neck (cervical spine) dysfunction or injury.
What causes cervicogenic headaches or dizziness?
Because numerous pain sensitive structures exist around the neck (cervical spine) and the back of the head (occipital) region, irritation to structures in this area can result in headaches or dizziness-like symptoms. Working in poor postures or sustained neck positions can cause excessive strain and load to the upper joints of the neck, leading to dysfunctions in the muscles around the neck. Traumatic injuries including motor vehicle accidents, sporting injuries or falls, can also damage these joints. Osteoarthritis, or age-related changes can develop in these joints in older populations, resulting in cervicogenic symptoms.
How do I know if I have a cervicogenic disorder?
A person with cervicogenic headaches will often have reduced neck range of motion, symptom reproduction when touching areas around the neck and associated neck pain. Headaches usually start at the back of the head or neck and can radiate to the front of the head or behind the eyes. Symptoms can be aggravated after being in one position for a prolonged period (i.e. sitting at a desk) or with neck movement. About one third of people with cervicogenic headaches will also report light-headedness, unsteadiness or visual disturbances (APA website). A person with cervicogenic dizziness will similarly have limited neck movement, neck pain, and can report symptoms of unsteadiness, imbalance or disorientation (Reily et al. 2017).
How can Enhance Physiotherapy treatment help?
There is high quality evidence that supports the use of manual therapy and exercise for managing cervicogenic headaches (Gross et al 2015; Hall et al 2007; Jull et al 2002; Racicki et al 2013) and dizziness (Jull et al 2007; Reid and Rivett 2005; Reid et al 2007). Your Enhance Physiotherapist may use different manual therapy techniques, taping, dry needling and prescription of strengthening exercises to help treat your symptoms.
If you believe you may suffer from a cervicogenic disorder, an adequate and thorough assessment by an Enhance Physiotherapist is essential in correctly diagnosing and excluding from other conditions. This is because different headache and dizziness conditions require different treatment and management plans. At Enhance Physiotherapy, our physiotherapists specialize in upper cervical spine disorders and can thoroughly assess your condition, provide a diagnosis with treatment plan or refer you to the appropriate medical practitioner if necessary.
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Saylor and Steiner. The Global Burden of Headache. Semin Neurol 2018:38