Cervicogenic Headaches

What is a cervicogenic headache?

There are many types of headaches and figuring out which “category” you fit into as a headache sufferer can be confusing and frustrating. So, let’s clear up at least one area of headaches, cervicogenic. Cervicogenic means of “cervical” origin, in other words, coming from the neck or cervical spine. This means the origins of your symptoms are caused by mechanical dysfunction related to the bones/ligaments/muscles of the neck that are referring pain to your head.

Why do cervicogenic headaches happen?

Cervicogenic headaches are most often caused by dysfunction at the upper levels of the cervical spine (C1-3) that are closest to the skull. One of the reasons being, some of the nerves that synapse from this region share a nucleus with the trigeminal nerve that serves the face/head (trigeminocervical nucleus). Confusion of synapses at this nucleus leads to transference of pain from one origin to the next (neck to head/face and vice versa). The input to the nucleus is commonly disrupted by nerve root irritation from the nerve exiting the upper vertebrae of the neck. This is caused by neck stiffness, trauma, acute muscle spasm, abnormal positioning, or general inflammation. The important aspect to understand is the sensation in your head you’re experiencing as a headache is a direct result of something going on in your upper neck.


What can I do about a cervicogenic headache?

A physical therapy exam will help determine what category of headache you fit in to and create a treatment plan accordingly. Keep in mind, outside of cervicogenic headaches, the muscles/joints of the neck and mid back may also be playing a role in headache symptoms. Addressing these tissues can relieve the intensity/frequency/duration of headaches even in migraine sufferers.

As far as cervicogenic headaches go, the skilled therapist will provide appropriate manual therapy, exercise, and education intervention to improve the mobility/stability or alignment of your upper cervical spine to reduce any irritation that may be contributing to your headaches.


Normalizing mobility in the upper neck and then creating stability through exercise to keep it that way should clear out any cervicogenic factors contributing to your symptoms. It is critical to address this aspect of headache production because no matter what other interventions you may try, this underlying piece will always be there if not addressed.


Curious if you have cervicogenic headaches? Come see us at Anchor Wellness!


About the author:


Dr. Samantha Dove is originally from San Antonio, Texas and has recently moved to Cincinnati from Atlanta, GA with her husband Sam and their dog Koda.

She was a springboard and platform diver for the University of Texas at Austin and has been a Doctor of Physical Therapy for over 5 years. Dr. Dove treats all orthopedic conditions with special interest in the spine, chronic pain, vestibular, and TMJ/TMD populations. She has her Manual Therapy Certification through the University of St. Augustine (USA) and has extensive dry needling training with KinetaCore.

Dr. Dove highly values continuing education in a variety of physical therapy topics but has taken special interest in the CranioFacial courses through USA to advance her TMD treatment skills. Health and wellness are a natural interest of hers in her personal life including participating in activities such as yoga, running, gardening, reading, cooking, family walks at Eden Park and all things self care! She is very excited to explore Cincinnati and to be joining the team at Anchor Wellness Center!