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  • Writer's pictureBeth Abney

Cervicogenic Headache Exercises: Relieving Pain and Tension in the Neck and Head


woman in pain rubbing her neck

Cervicogenic headaches are a literal pain in the neck. If you suffer from this type of headache, you know how debilitating it can be. Cervicogenic headache originates in the neck and can cause pain that radiates to the head, face, and shoulders. It's often misdiagnosed and can be challenging to treat, but cervicogenic headache exercises can provide relief.


Physical therapy exercises are a safe and effective way to alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with cervicogenic headaches. These exercises focus on strengthening the neck muscles, improving range of motion, and reducing tension. They can be done at home or with the guidance of a physical therapist.


In addition to exercise, massage therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication can be effective in managing cervicogenic headaches. It's important to work with a healthcare professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses your specific needs. By incorporating cervicogenic headache exercises into your routine, you can take an active role in managing your symptoms and improving your overall quality of life.


Understanding Cervicogenic Headaches

The first step to relieving your headache is to understand what’s causing it. Cervicogenic headaches are very common. Once you understand the problem, it’s much easier to find a way to relieve your pain.


Causes of Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches are caused by problems in the cervical spine, which is the upper part of your spine that supports your head and neck. The following factors may contribute to the development of cervicogenic headaches:


  • Poor posture

  • Injuries to the neck, such as whiplash

  • Arthritis in the neck

  • Pinched nerves in the neck

  • Tension in the neck muscles


Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches can cause pain and discomfort in your head, neck, and shoulders. The following symptoms may indicate that you are experiencing cervicogenic headaches:


  • Pain on one side of your head or face

  • Pain that radiates from the neck to the head

  • Stiffness in the neck

  • Limited range of motion in the neck

  • Pain that worsens with certain movements, such as tilting your head or turning your neck


It's important to note that cervicogenic headaches are different from migraines and tension headaches. If you experience any of the above symptoms, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the cause of your headaches and develop an appropriate treatment plan.


Exercises for Cervicogenic Headaches

If you suffer from cervicogenic headaches, you know how debilitating they can be. Fortunately, there are exercises that can help alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with this condition. Here are some exercises you can try:


Neck Stretches

Neck stretches can help relieve tension and tightness in the neck muscles, which can contribute to cervicogenic headaches. Here are a few stretches you can try:


  • Chin Tuck: Sit up straight and tuck your chin in towards your chest. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then release.

  • Side-to-Side Neck Stretch: Tilt your head to the right, bringing your ear towards your shoulder. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then repeat on the left side.

  • Rotational Neck Stretch: Turn your head to the right, looking over your shoulder. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then repeat on the left side.


Neck Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening the neck muscles can help improve posture and reduce the likelihood of developing cervicogenic headaches. Here are a few exercises you can try:


  • Isometric Neck Exercises: Place your hand on your forehead and push your head forward, using your neck muscles to resist the pressure. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then repeat with your hand on the back of your head and your head pushing backwards.

  • Resistance Band Exercises: Loop a resistance band around the back of your head and hold onto the ends with your hands. Push your head forward against the band, then pull it back against the resistance. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.


Posture Correction Exercises

Poor posture can contribute to cervicogenic headaches. Here are some exercises you can try to improve your posture:


  • Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Sit up straight and pull your shoulder blades back and down, as if you're trying to pinch a pencil between them. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then release.

  • Wall Angels: Stand with your back against a wall and your arms out to the sides at a 90-degree angle. Slowly slide your arms up the wall, then back down. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.


Relaxation Techniques

Stress and tension can contribute to cervicogenic headaches. Here are some relaxation techniques you can try:


  • Deep Breathing: Sit in a comfortable position and take slow, deep breaths, focusing on filling your lungs with air and then exhaling fully.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Starting with your toes and working your way up to your head, tense each muscle group for 5-10 seconds, then release.


Preventing Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches can be prevented by making certain lifestyle changes and ergonomic adjustments. Here are some tips to help you prevent cervicogenic headaches:


Lifestyle Changes

  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help you maintain good posture, strengthen your neck and shoulder muscles, and reduce stress.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight can put extra strain on your neck and shoulders, which can lead to cervicogenic headaches.

  • Manage stress: Stress can cause muscle tension in your neck and shoulders, which can trigger cervicogenic headaches. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help manage stress.

  • Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can cause muscle tension and trigger headaches. Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Ergonomic Adjustments

  • Adjust your computer monitor: Position your computer monitor at eye level to avoid straining your neck and shoulders.

  • Use a headset: If you spend a lot of time on the phone, use a headset to avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.

  • Take frequent breaks: If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, take frequent breaks to stretch and move around.

  • Use a supportive pillow: Use a supportive pillow that keeps your neck in a neutral position while you sleep.


By making these lifestyle changes and ergonomic adjustments, you can reduce your risk of developing cervicogenic headaches. If you continue to experience headaches despite these changes, talk to your healthcare provider about other treatment options.


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