What is a Cervicogenic Headache?

A cervicogenic headache is a pain that develops in the neck, though a person feels the pain in their head.
Cervicogenic headache

Cervicogenic headaches are secondary headaches caused by an underlying condition, such as neck injuries, infections, or severe high blood pressure. This sets them apart from primary headaches, such as migraines and or cluster headaches.

The pain caused by a cervicogenic headache begins in the neck and the back of the head and radiates towards the front of the head. People may confuse cervicogenic headaches with migraines and tension headaches, both of which can cause neck pain.

In most cases, they develop on one side of the head, starting from the back of the head and neck and radiating toward the front.

Other symptoms of a cervicogenic headache include:

  • a reduced range of motion in the neck
  • pain on one side of the face or head
  • pain and stiffness of the neck
  • pain around the eyes
  • pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm on one side
  • head pain that is triggered by certain neck movements or positions
  • sensitivity to light and noise
  • nausea
  • blurred vision

What causes a cervicogenic headache?

Cervicogenic headaches result from structural problems in the neck and are often due to problems with vertebrae at the top of the spine, called the cervical vertebrae, and specifically the C2-3 vertebra.

Some people develop cervicogenic headaches because they work in jobs that involve them straining their necks or from injury like whiplash.

Treatments for cervicogenic headaches focus on removing the cause of the pain. 

Some treatments for cervicogenic headaches include:


A range of medications can help treat cervicogenic headaches. Including:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Antidepressants

Physical Therapy

Is an effective treatment since a structural problem in the neck is often the cause, by stimulating the soft tissue and moving the joints around to relieve painful symp


Units use small electrodes placed on the skin to send small electrical signals to stimulate nerves near the source of pain. TENS may help some people with a cervicogenic headache, but the relief does not usually last long.

Radiofrequency ablation

People with chronic headaches may benefit from radiofrequency ablation. Also called radiofrequency neurolysis, this procedure involves using radio waves to heat the tip of a needle. A doctor will then apply the needle to the nerve that is causing the pain. The heat from the needle effectively deadens the nerve, interrupting the nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain.

Nerve blocks

A doctor can inject pain-numbing medicine into nerves and joints in the head and neck. These often provide pain relief and can help determine the source of the pain.


Is a surgery which involves placing electrodes on the back of the head or neck. When connected to a pulse generator via a thin wire, these electrodes stimulate the occipital nerve, which runs from the top of the spinal cord to the head. This therapy may help people with cervicogenic headaches when other treatments have not worked.


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