Cervicogenic headache

Cervicogenic headache, very common in women

Pain on one side of the head and around one eye, stiff neck, dizziness, sensitivity to light… Cervicogenic headache is the third most common type of headache with a much higher incidence in women. Likewise, it should be noted that this condition had been somewhat reviled, but, today, it is taken more into account for a striking fact: in many cases it becomes chronic.

As we well know, these types of realities (those related to headaches) very often remain in that area of ​​social invisibility and even skepticism. How can a headache be a cause of low labor? some wonder. Well, one thing primary care physicians know first-hand is that the social and personal impact of migraines, tension headaches, and cervicogenic headaches is immense.

A study carried out by the AstraZeneca and Ferrer Internacional laboratories, for example, revealed that although only 12% of people who suffer from these conditions become sick for an average of 3 days, the quality of life of these people when these states become chronic is greatly affected.

For this reason, we consider that it is important to give visibility to this type of patient. We all know or have heard of migraines, but, nevertheless,  cervicogenic headache is not so well known, despite the fact that its symptoms are very recurrent in a part of the population. It must be said that it is not just a simple neck pain or just another headache.

Cervicogenic headache: symptoms and causes

Studies such as the one carried out by O’Mullony I, Lafuente A, Pareja JA (2005) and published in the journal of the Spanish Pain Society, show us that the recognition of this syndrome is increasingly accepted by the clinical community.

Cervicogenic headache was first described in 1993 by Ottar Sjaastad. However, it was not until just a few years ago that the  International Headache Society  (IHS) drafted the diagnostic criteria to show that, indeed, we are dealing with the third most common type of headache.

What symptoms does it present?

A first fact that we must know is that it affects women to a greater degree. This is explained by a very specific fact: it is related to osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in which there is progressive wear and tear on the joints, something that is undoubtedly recurrent in females.

Let’s see however the main characteristics that occur with cervicogenic headache:

  • Continued pain on one side of the face, even reaching one or both eyes.
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Pain when coughing or sneezing.
  • Dizziness and increased headache when the patient makes any movement
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Vomiting and upset stomach

Origin of cervicogenic headache

Cervicogenic headache often has various triggers and origins. As we have already mentioned, one of them is osteoarthritis itself (related to the C2-C3 vertebrae). This condition can undoubtedly reach states of chronicity in which the patient must seek appropriate therapeutic approaches that offer at least a minimum quality of life.

The causes that would be behind this condition are the following:

  • Bad postures that cause overloading of the joints or soft tissues.
  • There are jobs that require us to perform what is known as cervical protraction. It is about those postures in which we do not take care of the axis of the head and the back, projecting the chin forward excessively. This causes overloads that, maintained over time, lead to this type of syndromes.
  • Also, trauma such as chiropractic, whiplash, or neuropathic injuries gives rise to this carcinogenic headache.

Treatments for cervicogenic headache

The most important thing in these cases is to have a good diagnosis. There are many people who simply believe that they suffer from a simple headache. Other times, primary care physicians may limit themselves to prescribing drugs (anti-inflammatories) to treat that neck pain.

However, the most appropriate is to use an approach where different therapies contribute, starting from the origin of the cervicogenic headache. Thus, studies such as the one carried out at the Akershus University Hospital, University of Oslo, show us some therapeutic strategies.

Therapeutic approaches

  • Spinal-cervical exercise therapies: the patient is trained in a type of gentle exercises to alleviate pain and improve mobility.
  • Physiotherapy: massages and the training of professionals specialized in this condition can also improve the life of the patient.
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Use a type of cervical pillow to take care of the back-neck-head axis while we sleep.
  •  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most widely used drug in these cases.
  • Learn to take care of our postures on a day-to-day basis.

Finally, and in the most serious cases, there is the possibility of carrying out a type of spinal surgery in case there is, for example, compression of a nerve. They are very specific cases in which the possibility of an intervention or not will depend on the particular situation of each patient.

To conclude, it should only be noted that in most cases, if we have most of the specified therapeutic approaches, we can improve our quality of life.

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