The role of the upper cervical spine in headaches

The neck can have a role to play in:

  • tension-type headaches
  • migraine of all types (including menstrual migraine)
  • cluster headaches
  • chronic paroxysmal hemicrania
  • hemicrania continua
  • SUNCT

Physios, osteopaths, chiros and headache sufferers themselves have known for years how commonly the neck is involved in headache problems.

However the body of research hasn’t been strong, so much so that the International Headache Society estimate that ‘cervicogenic headache’ is rare.

Typically, migraines have been viewed as a ‘vascular’ headache only, with no involvement from the neck.  Tension-type headaches have been viewed as the result of muscle tension

The good news for sufferers of headache and migraine is that there is an expanding body of evidence that sheds some light on what happens with headache and migraine sufferers.

Dean Watson, the founder and director of the Watson Headache Institute, is completing his PhD on the role of the upper three segments in headache and migraine. He has demonstrated that reproduction and lessening of a sufferer’s normal headache pain is capable of desensitising the involved part of the brainstem, the trigeminocervical nucleus.

The trigeminocervical nucleus receives information from the head and face, and also from the upper three segments of the neck. It has been established that a key feature of headache and migraine sufferers is that this part of the brain becomes extra sensitive, so it has a lowered threshold eg it is always ‘just under the boil’ or ‘primed’ and doesn’t take as much input to reach a threshold and to give you your headache.

Through more than 20 years of treating clients with headaches exclusively, Dean Watson has determined that involvement of the upper cervical spine isn’t a rare occurrence at all, and in fact neck involvement is common and can be treated effectively and successfully to improve or eliminate headaches of all types.

Dean’s method of assessment and treatment that is taught worldwide and has helped thousands of headache sufferers.