Cervicogenic Headache Explained

Ever feel the pain moving from your neck to the head. The slowly descending pain can be a source of huge distress that can hamper your day to day activities. This pain is called the cervicogenic headache and it is usually a constant ache or dull feeling that sometimes worsens with intensity. The symptoms are usually locked at the side which means that they occur in only part of the neck, face or head.

This secondary headache occurs because of a neurological or physical condition that triggers it. The trauma caused by dislocation, fracture or a whiplash injury can result in this headache. The pain also indicates the presence of an underlying medical condition such as an infection, arthritis or cancer. While the source of the pain is usually located at the cervical spine, medical experts find it challenging to diagnose CGH because it is not always present in the neck. Symptoms of CGH are often very similar to simple headaches that are a result of hypertension or migraine.

The Associated Pain

The first part of the cervicogenic headache pain starts with slow intermittent pain and evolves into a continuous never-ending pain. Here are some of the common features:

  • Pain flowing through the shoulder and the neck on the same side.
  • Swelling of the eye and the blurriness of vision. This usually happens in the eye of the affected side.
  • Pain originates from the back of the neck and moves to the ear, temple and forehead.
  • Restricts the flexibility of the neck.
  • In most cases pain affects the same side of the head and the neck. However, in some uncommon cases both sides of the neck and the head may be affected.

Abnormal postures or movements of the neck often trigger pain. Sudden movements that result from sneezing or coughing or pressing the back of the neck intensify the pain.

In the long-run the pain depends on the primary reason of the headache. This is a chronic condition that can continue for months and even years. However, early diagnosis means that doctors can then cure the condition with precautionary treatment.

When is it Serious

In many cases this is caused by dangerous conditions such as hemorrhage and tumor. An abnormal connection between the veins and the arteries can also cause cervicogenic headache in the neck or the head. Presence of such cases indicates a potentially dangerous situation that requires immediate treatment.

These are some of the symptoms that indicate the presence of such threat.

  • Continuous numbness of the arms.
  • Vomiting and Nausea
  • Losing grip of reality, disorientation and confusion
  • A different kind of pain, for example a change in the type of pain you are experiencing. A serious headache that suddenly becomes intolerable is a sign that warns us of the imminent danger that lies ahead.
  • Sometimes headaches are triggered by some actions or activities, in such cases. Coughing, sneezing or carrying out the Valsalva maneuver are factors that can result in severe headache. The Valsalva maneuver is when you look to exhale air by shutting your mouth and pinching your nostrils tightly.

Neck Problem and Cervicogenic Headache

People researching this headache are yet to find a conclusive reason for the expansion of a simple neck pain to a cervicogenic headache. According to some health experts the transformation has more to do with sensory nerve fibers than other reasons.

The trigeminocervical nucleus is the place where sensory nerve fibers that originate from the trigeminal nerve converge with the nerves of the upper spine. The place of convergence is located in the upper most section of the spine. The trigeminocervical nerve is responsible for the sensation of pain that our bodies feel, this includes the sensation of pain in the top of our head, the eye, the temple area and the forehead.

The pain sensation caused by this headache is transferred to the trigeminal nerve fibers placed inside the trigeminocervical nucleus, as soon as the nerves in the upper part of the spine sense it. This consequentially leads to pain in various regions of the head.

The pain is transmitted from the neck to the head due to various reasons. Some of these factors are mentioned below.

  • The presence of tumors in the cervical region
  • An injury to any component of the cervical spine such as the facet joint, disc or the vertebra can result in the transmission of pain from the neck to the head.
  • Injury to the muscles or the neck
  • Sometimes the presence of a pinched nerve can result in cervical radiculopathy
  • Injury to the joints located between the first cervical vertebra and the base of the skull can result can also lead to pain in head and neck.

Whiplash injury is another common cause medical experts blame for the escalation of pain from the neck to the head. The whiplash injury is the pain that follows a severe injury. The headache that originates from whiplash can last for a few days or can continue for more than a few years.

The CGH also enhances in pain due to the sensitive trigger points it is related to. Since the head and the neck are connected to almost all activities during the day, they are exposed to a great deal of pressure. These trigger points are related to the application and position of all forms of external pressure.

CGH symptoms that are triggered by movements caused by a cough or the Valsalva maneuver indicate the presence of a more underlying and serious condition that can have great ramifications if left ignored. Sometimes the problem is a silent indicator of damage to the cervical vertebral artery or the tumor.

It is imperative to seek attention as soon as you witness any of the symptoms mentioned above. Ignoring the pain can further escalate an already troubling issue. There are numerous cases of people ignoring the issue only to find out a much more serious issue beneath.This is why you should look to consult a health expert immediately and look for a cure.