A cervicogenic headache is a headache that is caused from a problem in the spine. According to the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch (CINN), causes of cervicogenic headache vary from illness such as arthritis or an injury such as cervical sprain (whiplash). This can be a particularly incapacitating type of headache.
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Common symptoms of a cervicogenic headache include a steady, non-throbbing pain at the back and base of the skull, sometimes extending down to the neck and between the shoulder blades. The pain can also be located behind the brows and forehead. Because of the location, most of the pain is felt in the head, even though the problem is originating from the spine. Pain usually starts after a sudden neck movement, such as a sneeze.
According to the Cervicogenic International Study Group, patients tend to get other symptoms along with head and/or neck pain. These include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, becoming very sensitive to light or sounds and feeling pain down one or both arms. The neck also becomes very stiff and the patient may have trouble moving.
According to CINN, there are several factors that can contribute to making cervicogenic headaches more severe or happen more frequently. These include fatigue, problems sleeping, disc problems, current or prior injuries, poor posture and stress on the muscles.
Drugs are usually prescribed to help deal with the symptoms while the doctor tries to determine the root cause of the headaches. They types of dugs prescribed include painkillers, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and muscle relaxants. So far, there is no diagnostic test for cervicogenic headaches, so finding the cause of the headaches in the spine may take some time.
According to CINN, further treatments to deal with the spinal problems causing the headaches include X-rays, chiropractic treatments, physiotherapy treatments and periodic acupuncture treatments. Eventually, nerve block injections or epidural spinal block injections may be given. The patient is also encouraged to engage in regular exercise, but to try to avoid the motions that can trigger a cervicogenic headache. Over time, the patient may feel the body giving warning signs that a headache is on the way. Taking painkillers during this time can prevent the headache or reduce its intensity.
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