A cervicogenic headache originates from the neck and appears secondary to another issue such as a neck disorder, lesion or trauma to the head and neck. One of the most common forms, the cervicogenic headache accounts for up to 22 percent of all those seen clinically.
One of the most prevalent causes of cervicogenic headaches is whiplash, trauma to the head and neck. As many as 80 percent of all people who have experienced whiplash will develop a cervicogenic headache. The sudden and violent back-and-forth motion of whiplash causes movement beyond the neck’s normal range of motion and injures the discs, ligaments, cervical muscles and nerve roots of the neck. The cervical facet joints may also become damaged as a result of whiplash, leading to inflammation and irritation to the nerves located in the brainstem and spinal cord.
Whiplash often occurs as a result of motor vehicle collisions, contact sports such as football and rugby, assault and accidental falls. Whiplash headaches are similar to, and often indistinguishable from other types of headaches. Pain may be present in the head, neck or jaw. Symptoms can occur immediately following the trauma or up to several days after the incident and include neck stiffness, loss of movement, a constant dull ache at the back of the skull, and pain behind the eyes or the temple region of the skull. Pain is generally felt on one side of the head. In rare instances, may be felt on both sides of the head in rare instances.
Treatment options for cervicogenic headaches vary, depending on the symptoms of the individual, and they are designed to target the source of the pain in the neck. Whiplash headaches are initially treated with a combination of physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications. If pain persists, other treatment options such as nerve blocks, Botox injections, steroid and anesthetic injections may provide temporary or long term relief.