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Headaches Due to Cervical Stenosis

Posted on December 15, 2017 by admin

Cervical stenosis refers to the narrowing of the open area of the vertebrae, or the spinal canal, in the neck. The spinal cord contains numerous nerves that run from the brain to the lower back, and these nerves are critical to movement, body control and other essential functions. When the cervical spinal canal, or the vertebrae between the head and chest, becomes narrowed, it can compress one or several pain-sensitive structures in this area.

The upper three spinal nerves are linked to the trigeminal nerve, which is the face’s main sensory nerve. Other pain-sensitive structures in this area include nerves, the lining of the spine, the joints, ligaments and vertebral arteries in this area. When the nerves in the cervical vertebrae are irritated or inflamed, the pain can be felt in the had rather than the neck, leading to a cervicogenic headache.


Those who suffer from cervicogenic headaches can have a variety of symptoms, including:

  • A reduced range of motion in their necks
  • Pain that worsens with certain movements
  • Pain that worsens when pressure is applied at certain points on their necks
  • A one-sided headache
  • Pain that radiates from the neck or back to behind the eye or the front of the head

Other headache disorders have similar symptoms of light and noise sensitivity, nausea and throbbing pain. Cervicogenic headaches will also tend to include tenderness near the base of the skull and at the neck along with worsening symptoms with head or neck movement. Neck pain may or may not accompany the headache.


A headache can be caused by many things, which is why a careful examination is needed to identify the cause of yours and rule out other types of head pain. At your appointment, you will likely need to complete a medical and symptom history and undergo a physical examination. Cervical X-rays and skull X-rays may also be taken. In some cases, a nerve block might be recommended. A nerve block can narrow down the source of the pain and provide symptom relief.


If you are diagnosed with headaches due to cervical stenosis, your treatment will need to target the underlying cause rather than the symptoms only. Common treatments include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Nerve blocks
  • Cool compresses
  • Electrical muscle stimulation
  • Traction
  • Stretching

Although medications can be used during a headache, they do not resolve the underlying cause of the pain and are typically ineffective for long-term use. Exercises, stretching and other non-invasive treatments that are designed to decrease pain, reduce inflammation and calm muscle spasms will often provide more significant relief.