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Cervicogenic Headache: A Pain In The Neck

Apr 1, 2008
Does neck pain cause headaches? It can cause a certain type known as cervicogenic headache. What's that? Just a fancy medical term for a "pain in the neck" that causes headache. Many people experience this when they have a minor car accident and this results in neck strain due to whiplash during the accident.

Sometimes it occurs when you might have lifted something heavy. You strain the muscles in your neck and if they don't heal quickly, the continuing spasms can cause headaches. The spasms can occur while awake or while sleeping. There are over 20 muscles in the neck that can refer pain up to the head. No wonder it hurts!

Herniated discs in the neck can also cause spasms and result in cervicogenic headaches and migraines. Disc herniation can result from a variety of causes, including the above mentioned car accidents and lifting injuries. In patients who already have migraine, herniated discs can provoke more migraines. The pain will start at the base of the skull and cascade forward to the front. By the time it hits the temples, a migraine starts.

OK you say, now how do I get rid of this you ask? Several methods have shown to be effective for this type of headache and some are medication, some are lifestyle.

1. Physical therapy. This is best attempted after an anti-spasmotic medication is on board, but once done properly can really help with neck pain.

2. Medication. In this case there are a great variety of anti-spasmotics that can help cervicogenic headache. Some like Elavil for cervicogenic headache can ease spasms and help you get to sleep. Ask your health care provider if this might be best for your needs. Others such as Skelaxin, are relatively non-sedating and could be taken during the day.

3. Pillows. Surprise!! This really has an effect on neck pain and many people just don't consider it that important. I recommend using only one pillow at night. More than one will cause the neck to be in abnormal positions during sleep, and then create more spasms and pain. Find one that best suits you and supports the neck.

4. Chiropractic care. This may really help you once severe spasms are under control. Like physical therapy, do not attempt this until some anti-spasmotics are on board as you may get worse.

5. Trigger point injections. Trigger point injections are small amounts of a numbing agent with a little steroid mixed in. They are placed at the pain points along the muscles of the neck. They are also known as headache pressure points. When pressed, if the muscle is in spasm, trigger points hurt! Injections will help calm the pain down. They may be repeated to the area with a maximum of three sets of injections.

6. Stretching exercises. These will be given to you by the physical therapist and can only really help if you do them daily for awhile. Do not stretch to the point of pain! Try to stretch first thing in the morning as your neck may have cramped up while sleeping.

Take it slow and easy and proper treatment of neck pain can reduce headaches.
About the Author
Mary K. Betz, MS RPA-C is a practicing Physician Assistant. For more information on headaches and treatment visit www.Headache-adviser.com and for neck pain visit Cervicogenic Headaches
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