Can Spine Problems Cause Headaches?

There are approximately 20 different types of headaches. One common type is cervicogenic headaches, which result from problems with the neck or cervical spine.

The most common problem in the cervical spine is irritation of the facet joints.

Facet joints are small joints found on the back of each vertebrae in your spine. When these joints become inflamed, they lead to neck pain and headaches.

Facet joints are small joints found on the back of each vertebrae in your spine. When these joints become inflamed, they lead to neck pain and headaches.

In older patients, this inflammation can come from wear-and-tear arthritis (osteoarthritis).

In younger people, joint injury is usually from trauma. This trauma can be very minor, such as a fall or sleeping in a bad position, or something more severe, such as a motor vehicle accident. Trauma results in damage to the cartilage within the joint and over-stretching of the joint capsule.

When these facet joints become inflamed and painful, it leads to muscle spasm and tightness that refers pain up into the base of the skull. This muscle tightness can also cause a headache that starts at the base of the skull and wraps up and over the head.

When you hold a muscle tight in your body, that muscle starts to ache because of oxygen deprivation. Tight muscles also limit your range of motion and make it painful to turn your head.

What are the best treatments available?

When treating cervicogenic headaches, we need to address the injured facet joints, which typically respond well to gentle chiropractic manipulations or mobilisations. In severe cases, a corticosteroid injection may be necessary to reduce inflammation but that is only in extreme circumstances.

The muscle spasms also need to be addressed, which is best resolved by a combination of soft tissue work (Active Release Techniques, Trigenics) and dry needling, which assists with myofascial triggerpoints.

We also provide our patients with a series of light neck stretches to reduce neck tension.

Dry needling for cervicogenic headaches

Dry needling for cervicogenic headaches

Summary

Cervicogenic headaches are commonly the result of injury to the facet joints. These joints can become inflamed and injured from a variety of sources such as osteoarthritis, falls, or motor vehicle accidents.

Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Stiffness or pain with moving your head (turning, looking up & down)

  • Neck pain/ache

  • Headache that starts at the base of the skull and wraps up and over the head

Neck Pain, HeadachesStephen Lee