Headaches From Your Neck

Some headaches are caused by eyestrain, stress, tiredness, or trauma. If you feel a headache coming on, you may be able to isolate the cause. Cervicogenic headaches are different because they are caused by problems with the nerves, bones, or muscles in your neck. Although you may feel pain in your head, it doesn’t start there. Instead, the pain you feel is referred pain from another location in your body.

What are symptoms of a cervicogenic headache?

  • In addition to a throbbing head pain, symptoms of a cervicogenic headache may include:
  • Pain on one side of your head or face
  •   A stiff neck
  • Pain around the eyes
  • Pain while coughing or sneezing
  • A headache with certain neck postures or movement.
  • Cervicogenic headaches can also cause symptoms similar to migraine headaches, such as light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, blurry vision, and an upset stomach.

What causes cervicogenic headaches?

Because cervicogenic headaches arise from problems in the neck, different conditions can trigger this type of pain. These include:

  • Degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis
  • A prolapsed disc in the neck
  • A whiplash injury.
  • Falling down or playing sports
  • Cervicogenic headaches may also occur due to your posture while sitting or standing at work. If you’re a driver, carpenter, hairstylist, or someone who sits at a desk, you may unknowingly push your chin forward which moves your head out in front of your body. This is called cervical protraction. Sitting or standing in this position for long periods of time can put pressure or stress on the neck and base of the skull, triggering a cervicogenic headache.
  • Falling asleep in an awkward position (such as with your head too far to the front or back, or off to one side) can also cause these types of headaches. This can happen if you sleep in a chair or while sitting up in bed.
  • A compressed or pinched nerve in or near the neck is another cause of cervicogenic headaches.

Role Of Physical Modalities/Therapies In Treating Cervicogenic Headaches

Physiotherapy strengthens weak neck muscles and improves mobility of your joints. Other alternative therapies recommended to lessen nerve, joint, or muscle pain in the neck include:

  • Massage therapy
  • Spinal manipulation through chiropractic care
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Relaxation techniques.

Other options for managing pain include:

  • Avoiding activities that worsen pain
  • Applying ice or heat for 10 to 15 minutes, several times a day
  • Use a proper pillow while sleeping and use a neck brace when sitting upright to prevent bending your neck forward
  • Practicing good posture when sitting, standing, or driving (stand or sit tall with your shoulders back, and don’t lean your head too far forward)


Some occurrences of cervicogenic headaches are not preventable. This is the case with headaches stemming from a condition like osteoarthritis, which tends to set in with age. Some of the same strategies for managing pain may also prevent these headaches. For example:

  • Practice good posture when sitting or driving.
  • Don’t sleep with your head propped too high on a pillow. Instead, keep your neck and spine in alignment by using an orthopaedic pillow.
  • Use a neck brace if you’re sleeping in a chair or sitting upright.
  • Avoid head and neck collisions when playing sports to prevent injury


Written By:
Philis Iguta
Physical Therapist
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

Could Your Constant Headaches Be Coming From Your Neck?

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