Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cervicogenic Headaches

Here is my article from this month's health section of the New Hamburg Independent. It takes a brief look at the best treatments for headaches that originate from the neck. As per usual with the limited space, this is more of a introduction to the topic rather than an all-inclusive explanation. Feel free to message me with your questions or comments!

New research points to exercise and spinal manipulation for certain headaches

Headaches are an extremely common and often debilitating disorder that people in our society suffer from. In fact, some research has shown that only 10% of our population is lucky enough to go headache-free over the course of one year.

So how do you get rid of these annoyances? First it is important to understand what is causing your discomfort. Common examples of headache types include migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches. In this article, we will be talking about how to treat a specific type of headache that accounts for 15-20% of all cases: cervicogenic.

Cervicogenic headaches occur when there is damaged tissue in the neck that refers pain to the head. With a headache that is purely cervicogenic in origin, there is no actual pain being generated in the head itself; it is exclusively injured tissue in the neck that causes pain to travel into the head, and as a result, a headache is perceived. Most commonly, the tissues that can refer pain into the head include muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves.

Since cervicogenic headaches originate at the neck, it should be no surprise that the research shows treatment to the neck works best.

For instance, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine looked at the role of exercise in the management of these headaches. Subjects were either put into a neck strength exercise group, an endurance exercise group, or a control group where no specific exercise was completed.

At the 1 year mark, the strength group had shown a 69% overall improvement, the endurance group showed a 58% improvement, and the control group had only improved by 37%. Neck exercises clearly helped these individuals with their headaches.

Another treatment for cervicogenic headaches is manual therapy, including spinal manipulation (SMT). A separate 2010 study published in the Spine Journal took a look at how effective SMT is in the treatment of these types of headaches. The participants were separated into two groups; one received SMT, the other received a non-therapeutic “light massage.”

By the end of the 24-week study, participants who received SMT experienced 2.6 fewer cervicogenic headaches per week on average when compared to the “light massage” group. Therefore, if your headaches are originating from your neck, then SMT seems to be a viable treatment option.

While these studies are promising, it is important to keep in mind that there are many causes for headaches. In addition, just because you have one type, that does not mean you are immune from the other classifications of headaches. In fact, it is quite common to suffer from mixed-type headaches, where individuals may experience multiple types of headaches all at once.

Finally, it is also important to note that not all headaches are primary in origin. Sometimes they are secondary symptoms to a more sinister underlying condition. That is why it is important to make sure you seek a proper diagnosis from a duly trained health professional before piecing together a plan of action for your headaches.

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