Cervical headaches are relatively common. They may be caused by trauma such as whiplash, or they may come on gradually as a result of poor posture.

Cervical headache is a term used to describe a headache which is caused by pain arising from structures in the neck. Structures in the neck that can be associated with headaches are the joints between vertebrae, the muscles or nerves of the neck.

Cause of cervical headaches

A cervical headache is usually caused by pain referred from structures in the neck. Even though the pain is experienced as a headache, the head is usually not the source of the pain.

Structures in the neck which can refer pain to the head are:

  • nerves
  • joints and
  • muscles

What do I feel?

You may have:

  • pain behind the eyes
  • pain starting at the base of the neck and spreading into the head
  • a pulling, gripping or tight band around the head
  • a constant, steady, dull ache
  • a headache that is affected by head or neck movements
  • tenderness at the base of the neck

What can I do?

  • Practice good posture at home and work
  • Identify and reduce sources of stress
  • Heat or ice applied to the back of the neck may ease muscle tension
  • Engage in an active rehabilitation program with a physiotherapist

Treatment for cervical headaches involves correction of the source of the headache, whether it is the joints, muscles or nerves of the neck. Stretching and strengthening exercises are commonly used and posture correction also plays an important role.