A specific exercise program and modification of postural alignment for treatment of cervicogenic headache: a case report

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2005 Jan;35(1):3-15. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2005.35.1.3.


Study design: Case report.

Objective: To describe an intervention approach consisting of a specific active-exercise program and modification of postural alignment for an individual with cervicogenic headache.

Background: The patient was a 46-year-old male with a 7-year history of cervicogenic headache. He reported constant symptoms with an average intensity of 5/10 on a visual analogue scale where 0 indicated no pain and 10 the worst pain imaginable. Average pain intensity in the week prior to the initial evaluation was 3/10 secondary to trigger point injections. The patient's headache symptoms worsened with activities that involved use of his arms and prolonged sitting.

Methods and measures: The patient was treated 7 times over a 3-month period. Impairments of alignment, muscle function, and movement of the cervical, scapulothoracic, and lumbar regions were identified. Outcome measurements included headache frequency, intensity, and the Neck Disability Index (NDI) questionnaire. Intervention included modification of alignment and movement during active cervical and upper extremity movements. The patient also received functional instructions focused on diminishing the effect of the weight of the upper extremities on the cervical spine.

Results: The patient reported a decrease in headache frequency and intensity (1 headache in 3 weeks, intensity 1/10) and a decrease in his NDI score from 31 (severe disability) to 11 (mild disability). The patient also demonstrated improvement in upper cervical joint mobility, cervical range of motion, scapular alignment, and scapulothoracic muscle strength.

Conclusion: Interventions that included modification of alignment in the cervical, scapulothoracic, and lumbar region, along with instruction in a specific active-exercise program to address movement impairments in these 3 regions, appeared to have been successful in relieving headaches and improving function in this patient.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Muscles / physiopathology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Headache Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Headache Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Humerus / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Posture / physiology
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Scapula / physiopathology