Cervicogenic headache is a term used to describe headache symptoms that originate from the neck. The pain we experience with this is a “somatic referred pain”. Meaning the part that hurts, isn’t the actual cause of the pain. The primary cause of the cervicogenic headache is from nerve roots (as they exit the spinal cord), or along the length of the nerves as they travel towards the head.
Cervicogenic headache is very common in adults, and even more common in the post-acute phase of whiplash and trauma incidents, where there may be excessive stress on these nerve roots or nerve pathways.
Exercise and education, when used in combination with manual therapies and lifestyle/activity modification is the best form of treatment in the initial phase when treating conservatively.
Symptoms in most cases will resolve within a 3-month period of time for people that develop cervicogenic headache, particularly when looking at traumatic-related onset. However, some factors that can delay the recovery process and contribute to a more chronic pattern can include high volume of medication, psychosocial factors such as anxiety and poor sleeping patterns, being overweight and increased caffeine consumption.
There is no “one size fits all” recommendation when looking at exercise for treatment of cervicogenic headache. However recent studies have shown promising results for increasing resistance-based strength and conditioning, as well as regular aerobic activity such as walking or swimming. However, if you are experiencing some ongoing issues with what could be cervicogenic headache, it may be worth having the input of a treating health professional to help guide/tailor advice on exercise prescription.