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Cervicogenic Headaches – How Physical Therapists Can Help

By: Joey Bikkers, PT, DPT

Headaches come in many shapes and sizes, and not all headaches have the same underlying cause.  One type in particular, cervicogenic headaches, are fairly common and can be treated quite well by physical therapists.

First, what is a cervicogenic headache?  In breaking down the first word into cervico- and –genic, this indicates that this type of headache is generated from the neck (particularly the upper segments of the neck). Often times these headaches occupy one side of the head and neck or the other and may involve headache pain radiating from the base of the skull toward the forehead, temple, and/or eye.  Other symptoms may include an increase pain and stiffness with turning the head and neck.  Ultimately, appropriate screening and diagnosis can best get you on the road to recovery.

So how can a physical therapist treat these headaches? A combination of treatments may offer the best benefit at reducing your headache intensity and frequency.

Manual therapy: Hands-on treatments to the upper neck, ranging from slower mobilization to high-velocity low-amplitude manipulation, of the joints has been associated with significant improvements in headache pain intensity and frequency.



Specific exercise(s): Various well-done studies over the years show that specific stretching of the upper neck and specific strengthening of the musculature of the upper neck can yield significant and lasting improvement in your headache symptoms in a relatively short amount of time.



To learn more about how our expert team of Physical Therapists can help you manage cervicogenic headaches, find a Phoenix PT location near you.


Jull G, et al.  A randomized controlled trial of exercise and manipulative therapy for cervicogenic headache.  Spine.  2002; 27(17): 1835-1843.

Hall T, et al.  Efficacy of a C1-C2 self-sustained natural apophyseal glide (SNAG) in the management of cervicogenic headache.  J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.  2007; 37(3): 100-107.

Haas M, et al.  Dose response and efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic cervicogenic headache:  A pilot randomized controlled trial.  The Spine J.  2010; 10: 117-126.