Can Spinal Problems Cause Headaches?

Headaches are one of those ailments that virtually everyone has battled at some point. In fact, they’re one of the most common types of chronic pain worldwide. There are many different types of severe headaches, and each has a variety of possible causes ranging from sports injuries to allergies. If you have a spinal problem, like a herniated disc, you may experience what’s called a “cervicogenic headache.”


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What is a cervicogenic headache?

A cervicogenic headache is a secondary headache, which means it’s caused by another illness or physical issue in the body. In the case of a cervicogenic headache, the cause is a problem in the cervical spine. Cervicogenic headaches are often misdiagnosed as migraines or cluster headaches, which can also be associated with neck pain or tension. To be a cervicogenic headache, there must be evidence of a herniated disc, tumor, fracture, infection, arthritis, or another disorder in the upper cervical spine.

Telltale signs you’re suffering from a cervicogenic headache include:

  • Moderate to severe pain

  • Reduced range of motion in the neck 

  • Worsening of headache with certain neck movements

  • Pain when pressure is applied to the neck

  • Pain that is one-sided on the head or face

  • Pain that is localized or stays in one spot

  • The pain is deep and non-throbbing unless co-occurring with a migraine

How do spinal problems cause headaches?

The nerves in your cervical spine, or upper neck, share a nerve tract with the main sensory nerve responsible for carrying messages from your face to your brain. When there is damage to the bone, disc, or soft tissue in the spine, the brain can get its wires crossed and interpret the pain as being located in the head. Spinal problems can lead to headaches if the vertebrae are misaligned, which we’ll explain later. 

What is the difference between a migraine and cervicogenic headache?

The main distinction between a migraine and a cervicogenic headache is where they each originate. As we mentioned earlier, cervicogenic headaches are caused by a disorder of the spine, like a herniated disc or a fracture. Migraines, on the other hand, are related to muscle tension caused by a misalignment in the spine. Migraines also cause nausea, vomiting, light and noise sensitivity, and dizziness. If you’re prone to severe headaches, like migraines, regular chiropractic adjustments can help. 

How chiropractic care can relieve severe headaches

Studies show that most migraines are caused by a subluxation, or vertebrae misalignment, in the spine. When your vertebrae are misaligned even slightly it can cause irritation to the surrounding nerves and muscles. Vertebrae can become misaligned for many reasons, from injury, to sleep habits, to poor posture. Regular chiropractic adjustments put your vertebrae back where they belong to relieve muscle tension and reduce the severity and frequency of migraines. 

At Loy Chiropractic Arts, our first course of action in treating severe headaches is determining the root cause. Whether you suffer from regular migraines or think you may have a cervicogenic headache, we’ll take a full history of your symptoms and take x-rays, if necessary, to make a formal diagnosis. From there, we’ll work with you to develop a treatment plan that will provide long-lasting relief. Call us at (858) 436-7162 to schedule your appointment.