Most people view headaches as a condition and use medication to treat their aching head. The truth is that more than 90 percent of the time, a headache is a symptom of the true condition that should be addressed. The body uses the ache to tell the brain that something is wrong. Medication simply masks the pain and can have harmful side-effects. True headache relief usually requires addressing the origin of the pain, which is often the upper neck.
Data from the National Headache Foundation reveals that more than 45 million Americans experience chronic headaches. Adults are not the only sufferers, as approximately 20 percent of children and adolescents experience significant headaches. The most common headaches experienced by children, adolescents and adults are called tension headaches and are due to muscle contraction.
Many experts believe that neck muscles and tissues cause cervicogenic headaches. When these muscles spasm, the pain travels to the head, rather than being experienced in the neck. "Cervicogenic" means that the pain is caused by an issue within the cervical section of the spine, also called the neck. A whiplash injury is a common cause but trauma or injury is not the sole cause of this type of headache. Anything that irritates neck muscles or the cervical portion of the spin can be the cause.
Cervicogenic headaches are one of the five primary types of headaches in the National Institutes of Health classification system. They originate from neck disorders, including anatomical structures innervated by the C1 to C3 cervical roots. These headaches are often caused by a prolonged period of awkward positioning of the head or some type of neck movement. Arm, shoulder, or neck pain or restricted range of motion in the cervical area often accompanies the headache.
There are no dedicated scans or neurological, laboratory, or orthopedic tests for diagnosing a headache. A headache is classified as a clinical diagnosis, meaning that it is based on knowledge obtained through physical examination and medical history. In the under ten percent of cases that are due to disease, an MRI or other test is used to determine the cause. However, the majority of people suffering from headaches are accurately diagnosed by a thorough case history.
A cervicogenic headache is similar to a tension or a migraine headache, making it difficult to diagnose. In fact, this type of headache can lead to other types including cluster, stress, tension, or migraine. A conventional treatment such as medication does not usually provide relief. Overuse of medication can even cause a rebound headache. This is a reaction to toxicity in the body created by taking too many pain relievers. For successful cervicogenic headache treatment to occur, the source of the pain must be identified.
The neck region contains approximately 20 muscles, providing numerous opportunities for issues. Neck muscles in spasm sometimes restrict areas through which nerves pass, resulting in irritation, pain, and in extreme cases, loss of functioning. A typical symptom of a cervicogenic headache is pain originating at the base of the neck and moving into the head. At the onset, the base of the neck may be tender to touch. Moving the head or neck can worsen the headache.
A cervicogenic headache does not usually cure itself so treatment should be obtained for headache relief. Treatment many times involves chiropractic techniques such as spinal manipulation. There is strong evidence supporting chiropractic spinal manipulation for treatment of cervicogenic headaches. The February 2010 issue of The Spine Journal included a study that provided supporting evidence and research that chiropractors have the education, training and skills to treat those people suffering from headaches.