Cervicogenic Headache

What is a Cervicogenic headache?

A cervicogenic headache is a referred or secondary headache. The cause is a disorder of the cervical spine.  Pain-sensitive structures such as muscles, ligaments, discs and facet joints exist in the upper neck and occiput (back of head).

People with cervicogenic headache will often have a reduced range of motion, with a headache that worsens with certain movements of their neck or pressure applied to certain spots on their neck.

They often affect one side only and may radiate from the neck/back of the head.

The headache may or may not be associated with neck pain.

Treatment should target the cause of the neck pain and varies depending on what works best for the individual patient. Treatments may include chiropractic and exercise.

What can you do to help?

  • Maintain a good posture, and avoid long periods of sitting
  • Keep yourself well hydrated
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Sleep on your side with your head supported so that your neck is level with your spine.
  • Get your eyes checked. Make sure that your headache is not affected by eye strain


The following exercises may be done 3-4 times a day.

Increase gradually until you regain full range of movement.

If you feel the exercises are making your pain worse, reduce the number or frequency of the exercises or stop and seek advice.

  1. Turn your head slowly to look over left shoulder and then right
  2. Tilt your head slowly towards your right shoulder. Then the left.
  3. With your back supported, gently tuck your chin into your chest as if making a ‘double chin’.
  4. Shrug shoulders up, back and around, then relax.
  5. Stretch both hands overhead as high as possible.
  6. Sitting in a chair with your arms across your chest, turn your trunk to the right and hold for five seconds. Then turn to the left.

Information sourced from:

The International Headache Society. https://www.ichd-3.org/11-headache-or-facial-pain-attributed-to-disorder-of-the-cranium-neck-eyes-ears-nose-sinuses-teeth-mouth-or-other-facial-or-cervical-structure/11-2-headache-attributed-to-disorder-of-the-neck/11-2-1-cervicogenic-headache/

Bogduk N, Govind J. Cervicogenic headache: an assessment of the evidence on clinical diagnosis, invasive tests, and treatment. Lancet Neurol 2009; 8:959.