General Information

Cervical headaches are relatively common. They may be caused by trauma such as whiplash, or they may come on gradually as a result of poor posture.

Cause of cervical headaches

A cervical headache is usually caused by pain referred from structures in the neck. Even though the pain is experienced as a headache, the head is usually not the source of the pain.

Structures in the neck which can refer pain to the head are:

  • nerves
  • the joints between vertebrae
  • muscles

What do I feel?

You may have:

  • pain behind the eyes
  • pain starting at the base of the neck and spreading into the head
  • a pulling, gripping or tight band around the head
  • a constant, steady, dull ache
  • a headache that is affected by head or neck movements
  • tenderness at the base of the neck

What can I do?

  • Practice good posture at home and work, ensuring when you sit or stand your head is directly over your head and shoulders, rather than further forwards
  • Identify and reduce sources of stress
  • Heat or ice applied to the back of the neck may ease muscle tension
  • Support your neck as well as your head when lying down. A pillow or rolled towel under your neck can help with this
  • Engage in an active rehabilitation programme with a physiotherapist

Treatment for cervical headaches involves correction of the source of the headache, whether it is the joints, muscles or nerves of the neck. Stretching and strengthening exercises are commonly used, and posture correction also plays an important role.