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Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease May Cause Headaches

woman at her computer rubbing her temples to relieve headache

When your head is pounding, you may cycle through a litany of potential causes, from allergies to lack of sleep. But did you know headaches can also be a symptom of cervical degenerative disc disease?

Common Headache Causes

You drank too much last night. The lighting is poor in your workspace. There’s a thunderstorm rolling in. These are a few of the common causes of headaches. Some others are:

  • Overuse of medication
  • Sleeping issues
  • Changes in eating habits or eating certain foods
  • Allergens like dust or pollen
  • Exposure to smoke or chemicals
  • Eye strain
  • Back or neck strain
  • Depression or excessive stress
  • Excessive noise
  • Lighting that’s too bright or too dim
  • Changes in weather
  • Cervical disc issues

That last one surprises a lot of people who may not know how neck problems and headaches are related. Headaches caused by neck pain are called cervicogenic headaches.


What Are Cervicogenic Headaches?

Cervicogenic headaches occur when a neck issue causes referred pain in your head. The National Library of Medicine defines referred pain as “a type of pain that is perceived to be in one location other than where the pain stimulus is.” For example, people may experience pain in the teeth and/or jaw as one of the first symptoms of a heart attack.


Signs of a Cervical Disc-Related Headache

Cervicogenic headaches typically:

  • Affect the C2-C3 vertebra
  • Start in the back of the head with pain radiating to the front
  • Occur on one side of the head
  • Present as a dull ache with pain that may increase over time
  • Include pain or stiffness in the neck and/or limited range of motion in the neck
  • Cause a spike in pain during coughing or sneezing
  • Pain on one side of the face, behind one eye, in one shoulder, and/or down one arm

People suffering from cervical disc-related headaches can also have symptoms in common with migraines, like nausea and sensitivity to light.

What Causes Cervical Disc-Related Headaches?

Many things can cause cervicogenic headaches including degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis. People with jobs that require heavy labor or long periods on your feet with poor posture are more prone to these types of headaches. We commonly see the condition in carpenters, hairstylists, and long-haul drivers.

A bad fall, a sports injury, or whiplash are also common culprits of cervical disc-related headaches. Even poor posture from sitting at a desk for long periods of time with your chin jutted forward or sleeping in an awkward position can trigger one of these painful headaches.

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Treatment for Cervicogenic Headaches

Treatment for cervicogenic headaches will depend on the origin of your pain and the severity of your condition. The DISC Spine Institute has revolutionized how back pain is treated and how patients recover and go on to enjoy a pain-free life by leading with a minimally invasive approach.

At the DISC Spine Institute, our industry-leading, board-certified doctors pride ourselves on making every attempt to heal your pain using non-surgical options first. We are known for our conservative approach, and for providing the best patient care in the industry.

Initial treatments for cervical disc-related headaches will generally include:

Medications—These can be over-the-counter pain medicines like ibuprofen or Advil, which helps with inflammation. We may also recommend prescription pain medication, depending on your level of discomfort.

Physical therapy—This type of ongoing treatment can help ease the pain by addressing the structural problem in the neck.

When Surgery is Necessary

If these conservative procedures are not successful in eliminating the pain, and if the patient’s condition warrants because, for example, there is prolapse of the cervical disc and/or nerve compression, we consider a surgical approach. Surgeries can range from minimally invasive foraminotomy and discectomy to disc replacement to fusion.

Minimally invasive discectomy is a surgical procedure that also helps neck pain sufferers get relief from herniated discs and spinal stenosis. During the procedure, we make a small incision—measuring less than one inch—so that we can access the affected area.

Minimally invasive discectomy allows us to remove a portion of the disc and take the pressure off any compressed nerves that are causing pain. This procedure can be outpatient or an overnight hospital stay.

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In the rare instance that significant pain remains after discectomy, we may perform a disc replacement or a fusion procedure. Minimally invasive spine fusions are used to correct several spinal problems. As a rule, they are only used at the DISC Spine Institute if other non-surgical methods have failed to relieve the pain.

Cervical disc replacement surgery is outpatient or just an overnight stay. It removes the painful disc and gets the pressure off the nerves and spinal cord while maintaining motion.

During fusion surgery, we join bone with a bone graft or other artificial graft material. The completed spinal fusion allows new bone to grow through the bone graft spacer and the vertebrae fuse together, reducing pain in the affected area.

When it’s time to put an end to your pain, visit the DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain today. Minimally invasive surgical techniques mean treating chronic back pain is easier than ever, with outpatient treatments, small incisions, and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay.

No matter which type of cervical disc surgery you have, make sure you seek out a leading spinal surgeon. While cervical disc replacement is a well-established surgical procedure, not every surgeon has the technical skill and training to perform it. DISC Spine’s surgeons are leaders in their field and are among a very small percentage of top surgeons around the world who have been specially trained to perform cutting-edge minimally invasive procedures.

Recovery After Surgery

DISC Spine Institute puts tremendous emphasis on guiding patients through the recovery period after spinal surgery. The entire staff is committed to the health and well-being of its patients, providing continued recovery support with any necessary pain medications, muscle relaxants, support bracing, and metabolic supplements to aid in the healing of bones, nerves, and soft tissue, as well as topical scar healing medications and physical therapy when indicated. In addition to Dr. Valente and Dr. Indresano, DISC Spine’s experienced medical assistants and midlevel providers provide an enhanced level of support to help guide patients all the way through the recovery phase.

Interested In Getting More Information or Scheduling an Appointment?

Our caring staff are experts in minimally invasive surgical techniques, and they’re ready to help now. Contact Us to request more information or to schedule an appointment at your convenience.


Meet with Dr. Valente or Dr. Indresano in person at one of our 7 convenient DFW locations

Ready for life without back pain? Dr. Valente and Dr. Indresano are here to help. Submit your information and our staff will contact you shortly.

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