A cervicogenic (literally “coming from the neck”) headache is a form of chronic headache and neck pain that occurs when the muscles, nerves, or spine of the upper neck get irritated and painful. They may start as an occasional headache and gradually become chronic. They are usually described as steady or dull instead of throbbing, and radiate from the back of the neck to the side of the head and sometimes into the arms. They are usually side-locked, meaning the pain only affects the left or right side of the body.
These headaches are often triggered by poor posture or a sudden movement of the neck, such as coughing or sneezing, and are linked to workplace hazards or neck trauma. However, the underlying problem can vary. They can come from any form of injury or wear and tear to the spine and a part of the neck called the suboccipital region.
The suboccipital region lies right below the occipital bone (hence the name) at the back of your skull, and it houses some important muscles, nerves, and bones. If one of these gets injured, irritated, or has too much load put on it, it can lead to a headache. For example, trauma like whiplash from a car accident can stretch or bend a muscle or nerve, and the resulting damage can lead to a lot of pain. A slow wear and tear can also lead to headaches, such as when an arthritic joint in the spine starts to scrape against its surroundings.
Additionally, when anything in this region is under pressure, they can respond with pain. For example, a poor posture can strain the many small muscles responsible for keeping the head balanced by putting them in the wrong position for a long time. Pressure on the spinal cord, also very painful, or on neighboring nerves can come from conditions such as a herniated disc (when one of the soft discs cushioning your spine ruptures and leaks its insides), a bone pinching the spinal cord, or even growths or tumors.
A chiropractor can treat cervicogenic headaches by making sure the bones, muscles, and nerves causing them are working properly. A chiropractic adjustment and posture training can help move back and neck bones (especially in the spine) and muscles that may have moved into the wrong spot, and posture training can help fix an abnormal strain on muscles. Both of these reduce pressure that the bones and muscles of the neck put on each other and on their surrounding nerves, which relieves the pain and recurrence of cervicogenic headaches.