Migraines Vs. Cervicogenic headaches: Unravelling the differences



Not only do I see patients in clinic directly about their headaches, patients also often mention them as I take a history regarding other problems. 

When it comes to headaches, not all are created equal. Two common but distinct types are migraines and cervicogenic headaches. While both can be intensely painful and disruptive, understanding the differences between them can be crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.


1. Origin and Causes:

 Migraines: Migraines are neurological in nature and typically 

involve abnormal brain activity. They are often triggered by various factors, including stress, hormonal changes, specific foods, or even sensory stimuli like bright lights or loud sounds. Genetics can also play a role in predisposition to migraines.

Cervicogenic Headaches: Cervicogenic headaches, on the other hand, have their origin in the neck or cervical spine. These headaches result from structural issues, such as muscle tension, joint dysfunction, or nerve compression in the neck. Poor posture, injury, or underlying medical conditions like arthritis can contribute to cervicogenic headaches.


2. Location of pain

Migraines: Migraine pain is typically one-sided and often described as throbbing or pulsating. It can be located anywhere on the head, but it often starts on one side and may shift over time. Migraines are known for causing severe, debilitating pain.

Cervicogenic Headaches: Pain from cervicogenic headaches is usually felt on one side of the head and neck and can radiate to the forehead or behind the eye. This is the reason they are so commonly confused for migraines. Unlike migraines, the pain is often described as a dull, aching sensation that doesn't pulsate.


headaches & migraines


3. Symptoms:

Migraines: Migraines are frequently accompanied by a range of other symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances known as auras. These symptoms can be as disabling as the headache itself.

Cervicogenic Headaches: Cervicogenic headaches are primarily characterized by neck pain and stiffness. In some cases, you may experience limited neck mobility or pain when moving your neck. Unlike migraines, they tend to spare you from the sensory sensitivities and auras associated with migraines.


4. Duration:

Migraines: Migraines can last for hours to days, often requiring bed rest and a dark, quiet room for relief. They tend to have distinct phases, including the premonitory phase, aura (if present), headache phase, and postdrome.

Cervicogenic Headaches: Cervicogenic headaches are usually more persistent and can be chronic. They may linger for days, weeks, or even months, depending on the underlying causes and if the correct treatment or management is implemented.


5. Triggers:

Migraines: Migraine triggers are diverse and individualized, often including stress, hormonal changes, specific foods, and environmental factors. Identifying and managing triggers can be an essential part of migraine treatment.

Cervicogenic Headaches: Cervicogenic headaches are often triggered or exacerbated by poor posture, neck injury, or activities that strain the neck, such as prolonged computer use or improper ergonomics.


6. Treatment:

Migraines: Migraine treatment often involves a combination of lifestyle modifications, medications, and preventive strategies. Medications range from pain relievers to specific migraine drugs. Lifestyle changes might include stress reduction, dietary adjustments, and maintaining regular sleep patterns.

Cervicogenic Headaches: Treatment for cervicogenic headaches typically involves addressing the underlying cervical spine issues. This may include physiotherapy, traction, massage, stretching, postural corrections, and if these measures prove unsuccessful in severe cases injections or nerve blocks for pain relief.


In summary, migraines and cervicogenic headaches have distinct characteristics, origins, and symptoms. Proper diagnosis is essential to determine the appropriate treatment and management plan. If you experience chronic or severe headaches, it's important to consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation and personalized guidance on how to manage and alleviate your specific type of headache.


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