Cervicogenic Headaches vs. Migraines: How to tell the difference and how a skilled Physical Therapist can help
36 Million Americans are affected by chronic headaches each year; that’s 12% of the population!
You may be suffering from chronic migraines if you have more than 15 headaches per month, with at least 8 of these accompanied by the following symptoms:
- A headache that lasts more than 4 hours
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to sound
- Changes in vision, sensation, and speech, also known as “Aura”, that can occur before or during your headache
Causes of migraines are typically vascular or neurological in nature but can also be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, or a combination of these.
Cervicogenic headaches are typically caused by upper cervical spine trauma or injury, arthritis, and poor posture. While they are as a result of cervical spine dysfunction, they may not always be accompanied by neck pain.
You may be suffering from a cervicogenic headache, if your headache is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- A headache that is usually one sided and may travel from the base of the skull to the top of the head
- Longer in duration that a true migraine, lasting days or weeks
- A history of a cervical injury or trauma
- Decreased cervical range of motion
- A cervicogenic headache can also wake you from your sleep, as they can be positional
- Cervicogenic headaches can also be accompanied by any or all of the typical migraine symptoms!
So what kind of Headache is it?
According to Dr. Shawn Phelan of Wake Forest University, cervicogenic headaches are often misdiagnosed as migraines. If you suspect that you are suffering from cervicogenic headaches, see your doctor first and ask if Physical Therapy may be right for you.
A skilled Physical Therapist can help by:
- Performing a comprehensive initial evaluation measuring cervical range of motion, strength, and muscle tightness
- Using manual techniques to reduce pain and cervical muscle guarding, decreasing possible Occipital Nerve compression
- Improving range of motion and restoring normal cervical movement
- Improving posture with specific stretches and exercises
- Helping you modify your work station or home office