Cervicogenic, Tension & Migraine -What’s The Difference?

The headaches that we see in our clinic are often musculoskeletal in origin, caused by irritation and dysfunction in the neck. However, it’s important to diagnose headaches correctly and to rule out less common, but more sinister causes, before proceeding with treatment.

Common types of headaches we see in clinical practice include:

Cervicogenic Headaches

  • Usually on one side of the head / back of the head
  • Associated with neck pain or stiffness
  • Aggravated by activities that strain the neck joints
  • Caused by irritation of the nerves coming from the upper three neck joints feeding into the trigemino-cervical nucleus, which then irritates the trigeminal nerve that supplies sensation to the face

Tension Headaches

  • Usually described as a band-like ache around both sides of the forehead
  • Often associated with neck tension and positions that increase strain on neck muscles eg. Deskwork, poor posture, prolonged phone use, emotional stress
  • Caused by compression of the greater occipital nerves by increased tension in the sub-occipital and upper trapezius musculature, or potentially trigger point referral

Migraine Headaches

  • One sided, pulsatile headache which may have associated changes to the vision (‘aura’), nausea/vomiting, dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound
  • May be triggered by certain foods such as red wine or chocolate, stress, exercise or changes to sleep routines and hormone levels
  • More common in women and those with a familial history of migraines
  • Changes in the dilation of blood vessels surrounding the brain cause a release of inflammatory chemicals that irritate the trigeminal ganglion through the trigeminovascular pathway. This can then affect brain pathways that are responsible for vision and nausea.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) dysfunction related headaches

  • Caused by muscle tension and trigger points through the jaw muscles resulting from bruxism (tooth grinding), jaw clenching or an imbalance in jaw mechanics
  • Often worse upon waking if the cause is overnight bruxism and may have associated tooth damage or jaw clicking

These types of headaches often respond well to manual therapies, which reduces muscular tension and nerve irritation that is contributing to headache development. Identifying triggers is another important part of headache management.

Other types of headaches we screen for include:

      • Sinus headaches – headaches over the forehead and cheeks with associated nasal discharge / allergies
      • Hypertensive headache – caused by increased blood pressure that is not well controlled by lifestyle or medication
      • Withdrawal headaches – common in coffee drinkers if they haven’t had their morning caffeine hit
      • Cluster headaches – severe one sided headache with tearing and drooping of the eye
    • Eyestrain headaches – may require an optical prescription update
  • Dehydration headaches – common after exercise, on hot days or after drinking alcohol

Signs that indicate your headaches may need further investigation include:

    • A severe and sudden onset headache
    • Associated fever
    • Following a head injury
    • A sudden change in a person’s ‘normal’ headache pattern
    • Headaches that wake you up
  • Aggravation by coughing, straining or bending forwards

Diagnosing the type of headache correctly is the first step in finding the appropriate management plan for you. Our practitioners know the right questions to ask you to help find the patterns and causes of your headaches.

For a thorough assessment of your headaches, book a consultation with one of our treating clinicians at Mobility Health.

About Mobility Health

At Mobility Health in Southbank, we offer a range of services to to cover every aspect of your health and well-being. 

Follow us

Latest articles

Join our mailing list and keep up to date!

Our Southbank Chiropractic clinic is located at Level 2, Suite 14, 51-55 City Road, Southbank