Cervicogenic headache

Musculoskelet Sci Pract. 2023 Aug:66:102787. doi: 10.1016/j.msksp.2023.102787. Epub 2023 Jun 3.


Introduction: Cervicogenic headache, first proposed as a distinct headache in 1983, is a secondary headache to a primary cervical musculoskeletal disorder. Research into physical impairments was integral to clinical diagnosis and to develop and test research informed conservative management as the first line approach.

Purpose: This narrative presents an overview of the body of cervicogenic headache research from our laboratory which was undertaken in the context of a broad program of research into neck pain disorders.

Implications: Early research validated manual examination of the upper cervical segments against anaesthetic nerve blocks, which was vital to clinical diagnosis of cervicogenic headache. Further studies identified reduced cervical motion, altered motor control of the neck flexors, reduced strength of flexor and extensor muscles, and occasional presentation of mechanosensitivity of the upper cervical dura. Single measures are variable and not reliable in diagnosis. We proved that a pattern of reduced motion, upper cervical joint signs and impaired deep neck flexor function accurately identified cervicogenic headache and differentiated it from migraine and tension-type headache. The pattern was validated against placebo controlled diagnostic nerve blocks. A large multicentre clinical trial determined that a combined program of manipulative therapy and motor control exercise is effective in the management of cervicogenic headache and outcomes are maintained in the long term. More specific research into cervical related sensorimotor controlled is warranted in cervicogenic headache. Further adequately powered clinical trials of current research informed multimodal programs are advocated to further strengthen the evidence base for conservative management of cervicogenic headache.

Keywords: Cervicogenic headache; Clinical diagnosis; Clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Headache / therapy
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders* / therapy
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases*
  • Post-Traumatic Headache* / diagnosis
  • Post-Traumatic Headache* / therapy
  • Tension-Type Headache*