Cervicogenic headache: evidence that the neck is a pain generator

Headache. 2010 Apr;50(4):699-705. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2010.01648.x.


This review was developed as part of a debate, and takes the "pro" stance that abnormalities of structures in the neck can be a significant source of headache. The argument for this is developed from a review of the medical literature, and is made in 5 steps. It is clear that the cervical region contains many pain-sensitive structures, and that these are prone to injury. The anatomical and physiological mechanisms are in place to allow referral of pain to the head including frontal head regions and even the orbit in patients with pain originating from many of these neck structures. Clinical studies have shown that pain from cervical spine structures can in fact be referred to the head. Finally, clinical treatment trials involving patients with proven painful disorders of upper cervical zygapophysial joints have shown significant headache relief with treatment directed at cervical pain generators. In conclusion, painful disorders of the neck can give rise to headache, and the challenge is to identify these patients and treat them successfully.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Cervical Vertebrae / pathology
  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Migraine Disorders / therapy
  • Nerve Block / methods
  • Nerve Block / standards
  • Post-Traumatic Headache / diagnosis*
  • Post-Traumatic Headache / physiopathology*
  • Post-Traumatic Headache / therapy
  • Range of Motion, Articular / drug effects
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Trigeminal Caudal Nucleus / anatomy & histology
  • Trigeminal Caudal Nucleus / physiopathology
  • Whiplash Injuries / diagnosis
  • Whiplash Injuries / physiopathology
  • Whiplash Injuries / therapy
  • Zygapophyseal Joint / innervation
  • Zygapophyseal Joint / pathology
  • Zygapophyseal Joint / physiopathology*


  • Biomarkers