A cervicogenic headache is caused by a spinal problem and occurs when pain is referred from the cervical spine area (the spinal bones in the neck). 70 percent of cervicogenic headaches are caused by a problem with the C2-C3 bones, according to research carried out on this type of headache. Pain comes from the bones and soft tissues of the neck, but can also arise from articular and vascular structures in the neck.
Occipital neuralgia is a type of cervicogenic headache, caused by injury or compression of the occipital nerves. Possible causes include:
• Over-tight neck muscles (this can result from stress)
• Head trauma
• Osteoarthritis of the spine
• Inflammation due to infection
• A tumor compressing the nerves
• Other illnesses, such as diabetes or vasculitis
• Frequent activities that involve keeping the head downsuch as reading a book
The most effective treatments are manipulative therapies such as spinal manipulation, chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy.
Anaesthetic injections can also be given to temporarily block pain in the neck.
Occasionally, surgery may be carried out to decompress the cervical spine, although sometimes pain re-occurs after surgery so surgeons only perform the technique on those patients with the most severe cases.
Medications such as anti-depressants or anti-convulsants can be given. These alter the response of nerve fibers so that, with accumulative use, pain is not felt. However, they have only been shown to have modest benefit and are often ineffective if they are the only treatment used.
Muscle relaxants have been shown to help ease the pain of the condition and more research into this type of treatment is being done. Doctors are also experimenting with injecting Botulinum toxin, type A (botox) into the neck of cervicogenic headache sufferers.
If you are having intractable headaches that begin at the back of the neck, please see your doctor as headaches that aren’t treated can be difficult to get rid of.
Ask that your spine be evaluated (an MRI scan can determine any structural problems occurring in the spine).