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Published July 26, 2023

Ever been caught in the relentless grip of a headache that just won’t let go?

You’ve likely experienced a headache that starts at the base of your skull and radiates towards the front of your head.

These are known as cervicogenic headaches, and if you’re seeking relief, you might be wondering about the role of cervicogenic headache physio in easing your discomfort.

What is a cervicogenic headache?

Cervicogenic headaches are, quite literally, a pain in the neck. They originate from issues in the upper cervical spine or base of the skull, hence the name.

It’s often felt on one side of the head, and pain is usually mild to moderate.

Cervicogenic headache symptoms and common causes

Symptoms of a cervicogenic headache include:

  • A stiff neck or neck pain
  • Pain on one side of your head
  • Shoulder discomfort

The causes of a cervicogenic headache are varied. Poor posture can put excessive strain on the upper joints of the neck which can lead to a headache, particularly when working or sitting in one position for a long time.

An injury may also be the cause. This could be a sports injury or a vehicle-related injury like whiplash.

Other causes can be age-related such as osteoarthritis of the upper neck joints.

Understanding these niggly headaches is the first stride towards effective relief.

How to ease your cervicogenic headaches


Physiotherapy is all about healing and preventing injury through physical methods.

It’s about getting your body moving and working to its full potential.

This natural approach to healing can be a game-changer, especially when it comes to managing persistent pain, like the kind you experience with cervicogenic headaches.

Physiotherapy can target the source of these headaches – the neck.

Manual therapy, strengthening exercises, dry needling, and postural training can directly address the root cause.

Picture it like this: rather than just turning off the smoke alarm (aka treating symptoms), physio seeks to put out the fire (addressing the underlying issue).

Heat or cold therapy

This is a simple yet effective way to alleviate muscle tension and inflammation that can contribute to cervicogenic headaches.

A heat pack or a warm towel can increase blood flow and soothe stiff muscles in the neck, while a cold pack can reduce inflammation and numb the pain.

Typically, it’s recommended to use heat or cold for 15 minutes at a time, with a cloth barrier between your skin and the pack to prevent burns or frostbite.

Regular exercise

Exercise, particularly focusing on neck and shoulder strength and flexibility, can improve posture and alleviate pressure on the neck.

This could include stretches, strengthening exercises, or aerobic activity.

Regular physical activity also helps in maintaining overall health and promoting better sleep, which can indirectly help in managing headaches.

Posture correction

Poor posture can cause or exacerbate cervicogenic headaches by straining the neck and shoulder muscles.

Tips for good posture include keeping your shoulders back, not slouching, and maintaining your ear, shoulder, and hip in a straight line.

Additionally, when using devices like laptops or smartphones, ensure they are at eye level to prevent ‘tech neck’.

Get your rest

Sleep allows your body to repair and rejuvenate itself.

Poor sleep or lack of sleep can contribute to muscle tension and trigger cervicogenic headaches.

Establish a regular sleep schedule, create a restful environment, and engage in relaxing activities before bed to improve sleep quality.

Manage your stress

Stress is a common trigger for many types of headaches, including cervicogenic ones.

Engaging in stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, or any relaxing activity can help manage stress levels.

Ergonomic adjustments

Ensuring your work environment is ergonomic can help prevent neck strain.

This includes having your monitor at eye level, using a chair with good back support, and taking regular breaks to move around and stretch.

If you frequently use a phone, consider using a headset or speakerphone to prevent having to tilt your head.

At-home exercises to ease your pain

Try some of these simple stretches to get some neck movement and ease your head and neck pain.

Neck stretches

Gently tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder until you feel a stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. You can also tilt your head forward, bringing your chin towards your chest, and hold for the same amount of time. These neck stretches can help loosen neck muscle tightness.

Shoulder rolls

Stand or sit upright, then slowly roll your shoulders up, back, and down in a circular motion. Repeat this 10 times, then reverse the direction. This exercise can help relieve tension-type headaches stemming from your shoulders and neck.

Neck turns

While keeping your shoulders still and facing forward, slowly turn your head to the right until you feel a stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then repeat on the left side. This exercise can help improve flexibility and range of motion in your neck.

Isometric neck exercises

Press your hand against your forehead and push your head against your hand without moving your neck. Hold this for 5 seconds, then rest. Repeat the exercise with your hand on the back of your head, then on either side. These exercises can help strengthen your neck muscles.

Scapula squeezes (shoulder blade squeezes)

Stand or sit up straight. Pull your shoulder blades back and down as if you’re trying to make them meet. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat 10-15 times. This exercise can help improve your posture and strengthen your upper back muscles.

Child’s pose

Kneel on the floor or a mat, touch your big toes together, and sit back on your heels. Extend your arms in front of you and lower your chest towards your knees. Hold for 15-30 seconds. This yoga pose helps relax your body and stretch your back and neck.

Chest stretch

Stand in a doorway with your arms out in a “T” shape. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Hold for 15-30 seconds. This stretch can help if your cervicogenic headaches are related to poor posture or slouching.

The next step: tailored physiotherapy treatment

Cervicogenic headache physio treatment offers a promising path for those grappling with pain.

It isn’t a quick fix, but it’s a long-term strategy, aimed at addressing the root cause of the problem.

We’re here to support and guide you every step of the way, helping you reclaim your life from the clutches of chronic headaches.

Ready to explore how cervicogenic headache physio can help you? Don’t hesitate to reach out so you can receive physio for neck pain. Let’s work together towards a headache-free future.

Leslie Trigg

Director & Senior Physiotherapist at Integrity Physiotherapy Leslie Trigg, has over 15 years of experience in clinical practice. He has graduated with a degree in Human Biology (Anatomy and Physiology) from Curtin University in 2001 and later completed a Masters of Physiotherapy in 2007. He has tremendous experience in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, neurosurgical and sports physiotherapy. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, listening to music and spending time with his family.