Migraine Pain

Is cervicogenic headache caused by problems with the neck muscles ?

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

Cervicogenic headaches are secondary headaches. Secondary headaches are those 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 cluster headaches.


Genetics are thought to play a role in migraine headaches — a type of severe headache that causes a pulsating sensation or throbbing pain in the head.

The severe pulsating sensations or throbbing are usually accompanied by:

  • blurred vision
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to light
  • sensitivity to sound
  • vomiting

Up to a third of people that get migraines experience visual disturbances or temporary loss of vision (known as an aura) before the onset of the pain. Symptoms can last for up to 72 hours Trusted Source if untreated, with the pain typically affecting only one side of the head.

The following factors can trigger migraines:

  • bright lights
  • changes in weather (humidity, heat, pressure)
  • emotional stress or anxiety
  • foods and drinks, such as alcohol, chocolate, cheese, and cured meats
  • hormonal changes in women
  • loud noises
  • skipping meals
  • strong smells
  • tiredness
  • too much or too little sleep

Early treatment is key to reducing the length and severity of symptoms.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are rare but severe headaches that occur in cyclical patterns. The pain is intense and usually located around one eye. It may also radiate to other areas of the head and face, as well as the neck and shoulders.

People typically experience frequent headache attacks (clusters) for weeks or months before a period of remission.

Other symptoms of cluster headaches include:

  • facial sweating
  • pale or flushed skin
  • red or watery eyes
  • restlessness
  • stuffy or runny nose
  • swelling around the affected eye

Men tend to experience cluster headaches more often than women. The exact cause is unknown, but smoking, alcohol use, and a family history of cluster headaches may increase risk.

There is no cure for the condition, although treatments can reduce the number and severity of cluster headaches.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, occurring in 75 percent of people.

They usually affect both sides of the head, but some people may have symptoms on one side only.

Signs include:

  • dull, aching pain
  • scalp tenderness
  • tender or tight shoulder and neck muscles
  • tightness or pressure across the forehead, sides, or back of the head

Symptoms usually last for a few minutes to a few hours and are mild to moderate in severity.

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.

Physical therapy is an effective treatment for cervicogenic headaches since a structural problem in the neck usually causes them.

People can work with a physical therapist to develop specialized treatment programs. At the first appointment, a physical therapist will identify the source of the pain. From there, they may stimulate the soft tissue and move the joints around to relieve painful symptoms.

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