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Cervicogenic Headaches: Here’s All You Need To Know!

By Dr. Nikita Toshi +2 more

Are you experiencing constant and intense headaches? Does the pain seem to be concentrated at the back of the head and the eyes? It could be a case of a cervicogenic headache. It has been observed that the number of people suffering from this kind of headache has increased exponentially after the pandemic. If you are experiencing headaches more frequently in the post-pandemic era, it is not so much a sign of coronavirus as a neck issue originating from excessive laptop use. How does that work? 


Read ahead to find out.

What is a cervicogenic headache?

The cervical area is the uppermost part of the spine. It comprises the seven bones that form the neck. Cervicogenic headaches stem from the cervical region. The pain is felt in the head, but the epicentre of the headache is not your head. It comes from the strain on the bones, joints and muscles in the neck.

Over time, people who are engaged in jobs that require their necks to be bent in a certain way may suffer from cervicogenic headaches. Usually, truck drivers, carpenters and barbers experience it. Incorrect posture is the main cause.

But these days, this kind of headache is becoming very prevalent among laptop users and this has been particularly on the rise since people switched to a digital mode of life in 2020.

If you have a cervicogenic headache that keeps coming back and doesn’t get better with medicine, it’s important to visit a doctor. Don’t worry, with the right treatment like medicine, home remedies, alternative therapies, and may be surgery if required, you can reduce the pain and get back to your normal active life.

Dr. Arpit Verma, MBBS, MD (Pharmacology)

How did the pandemic cause cervicogenic headaches?

Covid-19 changed the way we approached life and everything became digital. Working from home, online school and tuition and watching a lot of digital content increased our screen time tenfold and this also meant that our necks were constantly bent over a device. 

If we compare working at home with working in a proper office environment, there is a huge difference. At work, we have ergonomically designed workstations that align the neck with the computer screen and various apparatuses like the mouse and keyboard, which reduce the load being put on the neck. 

During the pandemic, people had to make do with the facilities available at home. This chiefly includes working at regular household tables, dinner tables or hastily purchased laptop tables that are set up on our beds. However, most of the time, we end up sitting in the wrong posture for a long duration. Reports suggest that stress starts to build up after 30 minutes or so and any usage beyond 30 minutes creates pressure on the entire region, paving the way for cervicogenic headaches. As we all know, people have worked 9 hours or more in this posture all week for months. Hence it was inevitable that cervical problems cropped up. 

Also Read: Uses and Side effects of Dolo

A common accompanied condition with cervicogenic headache is Low back pain which results from a slouched back incorrect ergonomic posture and prolonged sitting without taking breaks, which leads to strain on the spine and on the ligaments of the back, resulting in recurrent episodes of neck and back pain.

Dr. Ashish Bajaj, M.B.B.S., M.D

Symptoms of a cervicogenic headache

Cervicogenic headaches might seem like a migraine at the offset, but symptoms that are specific to this type of headache are:

  • Throbbing and intense headache
  • Pain concentrated on one side of the neck or face
  • A stiff neck
  • Experiencing pain while sneezing or coughing
  • Headache that intensifies with certain neck movements
  • Pain around the eyes
  • Pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders

Cervicogenic headaches are secondary headaches. Secondary headaches result from an underlying condition, such as neck injuries, infections, or severe high blood pressure.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka, MBBS, MD

Who is at most risk of contracting cervicogenic headaches?

Spine specialists and surgeons have reported a 70% increase in the number of cervicogenic headache cases in the recent past. Post Covid-19, cervicogenic headaches have been affecting many people below the age of 25. These people have relied heavily on their digital devices for school, work and entertainment, spending several hours on mobile phones, tablets and laptops. 

Tips to reduce the risk of cervicogenic headaches

Sometimes, we have no option but to work in certain conditions that can trigger cervicogenic headaches. It is unwise to ignore the pain or pop painkillers whenever you feel a headache building. The good news is there are many ways you can improve your posture and position to help ease the pressure building up in the neck area.

  • When working, keep your arms to your side, close to the body. Avoid working with outstretched arms, as this increases the pressure.
  • Keep the keyboard or laptop near the edge of the table.
  • The screen should be at eye level to avoid looking down at the screen. 
  • As you might not have ergonomic chairs at home, use pillows to raise the chair’s level.
  • Ideally, work at a desk that has a gap to put your legs underneath.
  • Another tip in this context (to prevent wrist pain and not headache) is to keep the wrist parallel to the table and the fingers should not be pointing downwards while using the keyboard.
  • Avoid sitting and working on sofas or beds in the wrong posture for a long.
  • Avoid prolonged sitting, take a 5-10 mins break every 30-60 mins and do some stretching and walking.
  • Be physically active

Treatment

Headaches can be due to migraine, neurological problems, refractory errors, high blood pressure etc. It is important to consult a doctor for the diagnosis and treatment. There are some modes of treatment and medication available that relieve the pain caused by cervicogenic headaches. These include:

  • Applying ice or a heat pack several times a day, for 10 minutes each time.
  • Consciously improving posture.
  • Medications prescribed by a doctor 
  • Massage therapy
  • Neck and back support- cervical collars, back support cushions

Key takeaways

If left untreated, cervicogenic headaches are quite uncomfortable. Also, if not diagnosed correctly, they become worse, as steps are taken to cure them and posture improvement is not followed. Post the pandemic, care has to be taken to manage screen time effectively in order to avoid excessive straining of the neck and base of the skull. Cervicogenic headaches can easily be avoided with proper care and caution.

Also Read: Thunderclap Headache: Causes, Symptoms, and Research-Based Solutions

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational/awareness purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional and should not be relied upon to diagnose or treat any medical condition. The reader should consult a registered medical practitioner to determine the appropriateness of the information and before consuming any medication. PharmEasy does not provide any guarantee or warranty (express or implied) regarding the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of the information; and disclaims any liability arising thereof.

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