Cervicogenic headache exercises may be the key to alleviating the pain and discomfort of this neck-related headache. The maneuvers are specialized strengthening techniques and stretches for neck pain and headaches that work to relieve the tension, as well as improve your range of motion. Physical therapy and prescription medications may serve as complementary treatments in severe cases.
Known as a secondary headache, a cervicogenic headache may be caused by a blocked nerve or other health condition originating at a source within the cervical spine. This may include the blood vessels, discs, ligaments, or muscles of the neck or back.
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Cervicogenic Headache Exercises
Cervicogenic headache treatment tends to focus on the stretching and strengthening of the bones, ligaments, and muscles of the neck. An appropriate regimen of targeted exercises can be determined during any required physical therapy for headaches, specifically those of a cervicogenic nature.
Begin by performing cervicogenic headache stretching exercises three to five times daily, increasing the number of repetitions each time.
1. Craniocervical Flexion (CCF) Exercise
Lie down on your back with a rolled towel behind your neck. Make a nodding motion with your neck and head and hold for 10 seconds. Progress to raising your arms on either side for the duration of the hold.
Once your neck and head are strong, sit against a wall and perform the nodding motion and holding position without neck support.
2. Flexion and Extension Exercise
In a sitting or standing position, bring your chin to your chest slowly and hold for 30 seconds for a gentle stretch to the back of your neck.
Next, move your head back so that your eyes are focused on the ceiling to stretch the front neck muscles. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
Strengthen the neck muscles by placing your hand on your forehead and attempting to push it against the hand. Hold the position for 10 seconds.
Next, place the hand on the back of your neck and head and move your head backward with your eyes looking up toward the ceiling. Hold this position for 10 seconds.
3. Rotation Exercise
Stand or sit in an erect position as you turn your head to the right, looking over your shoulder. Hold the position for 30 seconds before returning to the original position. Repeat on the left side.
Gradually progress to placing your right hand on the right temple of your head for resistance as you turn your head. Hold this position for 10 seconds before repeating on the left side with your left hand and temple.
4. Lateral Flexion Exercise
Stand or sit and drop your head to the right side. Touch your right shoulder to the right ear without moving your shoulder upward. Hold the position for 30 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side.
Strengthen these muscles by using your hand as resistance support against the temple. Hold the position for 10 seconds on each side.
5. Chin Tuck Exercise
In a standing or sitting position, gently move your shoulders backward as your chin is tucked down towards the chest. Remain forward facing and hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
6. Shoulder Blade Exercise
Sit or stand with your hips straight, not leaning forward or backward. Slowly move your shoulders backwards and gently thrust your chest outwards.
Once you’re in a comfortable but stretched position, hold still for five seconds. Release and return to the staring position and repeat 10 times.
7. Back-Strengthening Exercise
Lie on your stomach with your face down to floor. Inhale and exhale deeply several times. Next, prop your upper body onto your elbows and hold the position for up to two minutes.
Cervicogenic headaches may cause either mild discomfort or severe pain due to damage or injury to the nerves in the cervical spine. Most cases of this form of headache can be alleviated, or prevented, by stretching and strengthening the head and neck muscles, tissues, and bones.
Clinical studies have shown improvement of cervicogenic headache episodes when combining stretching exercises with targeted strengthening exercises.
As with any exercise treatment, it is best to start slow and gradually progress as your strength is regained. You should also consult with your doctor before performing any of the above exercises to reduce the risk of injury.
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