CF 059: Don’t Be Dumb on Cervicogenic Headache

Today we’re going to talk about headaches. More specifically, we’re going to talk about cervicogenic headaches. How can we recognize cervicogenic headache, and get better at diagnosing and treating cervicogenic headache?

But first, here’s that delicious bumper music

Integrating Chiropractors

OK, we are back. Welcome to the podcast today, I’m Dr. Jeff Williams and I’m your host for the Chiropractic Forward podcast.  

You have crashed into Episode #59 like a bull in a china cabinet. You know, I’ve been told before that I’m a little like a bull in a china cabinet. That what I don’t break I poo on. Was that more palatable than some of the other words I could have used? I certainly hope so because me saying it that way just doesn’t sound very Jeff-like but I try to keep it mostly high brow and not too profanity-laced. 


As always, let’s talk a bit about the DACO program. I decided I kind of dread the eLearning episodes. Although the information is excellent, I’m one of those that doesn’t want to miss a word in the notes. These can be somewhat complex topics and, I’m afraid that if I miss something, it’ll be important and I’ll have trouble making sense of it all when I re-visit it. 

That could be my undiagnosed anxiety issue at play. Who the hell knows but it’s a fact so that means that I have to transcribe the entire 20-40 minutes of video or I’m not happy with the final result of the class. There are notes on these classes. A worksheet that helps organize it all but, there is a lot on the videos that is not on the worksheet so transcribe I must and I’m starting to despise that process. 

It’s admittedly a quirk of mine and probably won’t be your experience on the deal if you give it a try. As a result, I have started combining the Communication Drills. So I’ll take an eLearning episode and then I’ll take a Communication Drill and basically alternate them to keep me from getting burned out and to keep me moving forward efficiently. I’m averaging 8 or so hours a week so we’re still clicking along like a tired locomotive. 

Recent classes have been Managing Migraine Headaches, Diagnosing Cervicogenic Headaches, A Neurological Approach to Scoliosis, and Thinking Laterally With The Disc Patient. 

Coming Up

I gotta tell you, you all really liked the episode we did with Dr. James Lehman, episode 55, and the one we did on what I despise about this profession, episode 56. We are up over 7,200 downloads and that’s pretty exciting Y’all. This little thing of ours is rocking and rolling and shows no signs of slowing down either. 

That’s because THE Dr. Christine Goertz is coming on the show in late February. Wow! That’s a biggie! I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You’d already know this if you were in our private Chiropractic Forward Group on Facebook. You would have even had the chance to suggest questions for me to ask her when she comes on the show. You should probably go ahead and become a member. 

Speaking of the episode where we talked about the magical disappearing osteophytes, I was a little worried if I’m being honest about that one. I hated being negative like that and I was a bit concerned some of you would have a problem with that. Oh contrare, I think I had more feedback on that one than any of our episodes. 

It appears you guys agree and there is indeed no room for that mystical hunk o junk in our great profession. Of course, there isn’t. We knew that. Sometimes you just have to blow off a little steam and be the old guy saying, “get off my lawn ya punks!”

That was episode 56 for me. “Get off my lawn and stop driving so fast in a 30 mph zone yeah steampunk loving jackasses! And quit looking at my daughter like that before I shoot you in the nose hole!” We’re in Texas and all. lol. 

Cervicogenic Headache

Alright, let’s tackle cervicogenic headache a bit here. The first thing I want to say here is that, prior to the DACO classes, I had assumed that cervicogenic headache had a much higher prevalence than it does in reality. In your clinic, it really doesn’t show up all that much compared to the other forms of headaches. 

Breaking that down a little, tension-type headaches are the most prevalent at 38% of cases, migraines are next at 10%, and cervicogenic headache brings up the rear-end of the group at about 4% of cases. 

If it only makes up 4% of cases, why the heck are we covering it this week you may ask. Well, let me answer that since you’re so damn inquisitive today. 

Because it still makes up your patient base, you need to be able to notice it, and it’s one of the forms we can be fairly effective in treating. 

The first thing we gotta do is rule out a pathological headache by testing 

  • Steady gait over a normal base
  • Normal vital signs
  • Normal Romberg’s test
  • Quick screen of cranial nerves looking for extra-ocular movements, nystagmus, symmetrical pupils with normal reaction to light, normal facial muscle tone, and things like that. 
  • And then a basic screen of tendon reflexes, motor power and pathological reflexes like Babinski’s and Hoffman reflexes


What Does It Look Like?

So, what does a cervicogenic headache typically look like? Well, the first thing is that it is technically a secondary headache which means it is the symptom of something else that’s going on. 

Cervicogenic headache is usually 

  • Unilateral, side-consistent pain referred from a source in the neck. In fact, many times, you can elicit the head pain by pressing on the facets of the C2/3 region. 
  • Usually, the pain starts in the upper cervical region and then spreads toward the front of the head, orbital region, temples, vertex, or ears.
  • The pain may also spread to the ipsilateral shoulder or arm
  • Also, the pain is precipitated or aggravated by special neck movements or sustained neck posture. 
  • It’s mostly in the adult population with females being four times more affected than men. 
  • Sufferers can have suboccipital neck pain, dizziness, and even lightheadedness 

Paper #1

Let’s look at this paper called “Cervical musculoskeletal impairment in frequent intermittent headache. Part 1: subjects with single headaches” authored by G. Jull and published in 2007 in the International Headache Society[1]. 

They were testing musculoskeletal function in headache types like tension-type, migraine, and cervicogenic.

In all but one measure (kinesthetic sense), the cervicogenic headache group were significantly different from the migraine, tension-type headache and control groups. 

They found that collectively, restricted movement, in association with palpable upper cervical joint dysfunction and impairment in the cranio-cervical flexion test, had 100% sensitivity and 94% specificity to identify cervicogenic headache. 

They found that collectively, restricted movement, in association with palpable upper cervical joint dysfunction and impairment in the cranio-cervical flexion test, had 100% sensitivity and 94% specificity to identify cervicogenic headache.

It doesn’t get much more sensitive and specific than that does it? 100% and 94%. Bam, you got a cervicogenic headache Patient Jones and I have pretty much zero doubt about that. Yes…that feels good to be that confident. 

Paper #2

This next paper is called “Upper cervical and upper thoracic manipulation vs. mobilization and exercise in patients with cervicogenic headache: a multi-center randomized clinical trial[2].” It was authored by James Dunning, and what looks like about 30 others and published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders in 2016. 

In the beginning here the authors say that no studies have directly compared the effectiveness of cervical and thoracic manipulation to mobilization and exercise in individuals with cervicogenic headache. Thus the reason for the study. 

They had 110 participants here that were randomized to receive both cervical and thoracic manipulation or mobilization and exercise. 

What They Found

“Six to eight sessions of upper cervical and upper thoracic manipulation were shown to be more effective than mobilization and exercise in patients with CH, and the effects were maintained at 3 months.”

Time for superhero sound effects….Bam, snap, pow, shazam!

One of these days, I’m really going to incorporate sound effects into my efforts here but until then, you’re stuck with my ridiculous superhero effects. Lol. 

Paper #3

Moving on, this next paper is called “Dose-response for chiropractic care of chronic cervicogenic headache and associated neck pain: a randomized pilot study.” It was authored by M Haas, et. al. and published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics[3]. 

Why They Did It

To acquire information for designing a large clinical trial and determining its feasibility and to make preliminary estimates of the relationship between headache outcomes and the number of visits to a chiropractor.

What They Found

There was substantial benefit in pain relief for 9 and 12 treatments compared with 3 visits.

The authors concluded, “A large clinical trial on the relationship between pain relief and the number of chiropractic treatments is feasible. Findings give preliminary support for the benefit of larger doses, 9 to 12 treatments, of chiropractic care for the treatment of cervicogenic headache.”

Paper #4

Roughly that same group led by M.  Haas, et. al. later published this one in 2018, just last year, called “Dose-response and efficacy of spinal manipulation for care of cervicogenic headache: a dual-center randomized controlled trial.” It was published in Spine Journal[4]. 

They were looking to settle in on the optimal number of visits for the care of cervicogenic headache with spinal manipulative therapy. 

It was a two-site, open-open-table randomized controlled trial with 256 participants. 

What They Found

There was a linear dose-response relationship between spinal manipulative therapy visits and days with cervicogenic headache. For the highest and most effective dose of 18 treatments, days suffering from cervicogenic headache were reduced by half and about 3 more days per month than for the light-massage control group. 

And there you have it people, more information than you probably expected to get on Cervicogenic headache today. 

This week, I want you to go forward knowing more about cervicogenic headache than you did before you listened to this podcast. I want you to see it, test for it, recognize it, and fix it!

Integrating Chiropractors

The Message

I want you to know with absolute certainty that when Chiropractic is at its best, you can’t beat the risk vs reward ratio because spinal pain is primarily a movement-related pain and typically responds better to movement-related treatment instead of chemical treatments like pills and shots.

When compared to the traditional medical model, research and clinical experience show that many patients get good or excellent results through chiropractic for headaches, neck pain, back pain, joint pain, to name just a few.

Chiropractic care is safe and cost-effective. It can decrease instances of surgery & disability. Chiropractors normally do this through conservative, non-surgical means with minimal time requirements or hassle to the patient.

And, if the patient develops a “preventative” mindset going forward from initial recovery, chiropractors can likely keep it that way while raising the general, overall level of health of the patient!

Key Point:

Patients should have the guarantee of having the best treatment offering the least harm.

That’s Chiropractic!


Send us an email at dr dot williams at and let us know what you think of our show or tell us your suggestions for future episodes. Feedback and constructive criticism is a blessing and so are subscribes and excellent reviews on iTunes and other podcast services. Y’all know how this works by now so help if you don’t mind taking a few seconds to do so.

Help us get to the top of podcasts in our industry. That’s how we get the message out.


We can’t wait to connect with you again next week. From the Chiropractic Forward Podcast flight deck, this is Dr. Jeff Williams saying upward, onward, and forward.



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About the Author & Host

Dr. Jeff Williams – Chiropractor in Amarillo, TX, Chiropractic Advocate, Author, Entrepreneur, Educator, Businessman, Marketer, and Healthcare Blogger & Vlogger



1. Jull G, Cervical Musculoskeletal Impairment in Frequent Intermittent Headache. Part 1: Subjects With Single Headaches. International Headache Society, 2007. 27(7).

2. J, D., Upper cervical and upper thoracic manipulation versus mobilization and exercise in patients with cervicogenic headache: a multi-center randomized clinical trial. BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 2016. 17(1): p. 1.

3. Haas M, Conservative physical therapy management for the treatment of cervicogenic headache: a systematic review. J Man Manip Ther, 2013. 21(2): p. 113-24.

4. Haas M, Dose-response and efficacy of spinal manipulation for care of cervicogenic headache: a dual-center randomized controlled trial. Spine, 2018: p. S1529-9430.

CF 006: With Dr. Tyce Hergert: Astounding Expert Information On Immediate Headache Relief

CF 050: Chiropractic Care – Text Neck, Headaches, Migraines

CF 041: w/ Dr. William Lawson – Research For Neck Pain



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