I recently read a comment from a patient asking a very interesting question - “What is the difference between occipital neuralgia (ON) and cervicogenic headaches (CH)?”
Unfortunately the answer to this question is not a straightforward one. It has been postulated that pain in the head/neck region can be referred from problems in the bony or soft tissues of the neck, but there is still some controversy as to whether cervicogenic headache constitutes a distinct clinical entity. The upper-most cervical nerves and their branches are the most commonly cited sources of CH with the most common source being the C2/C3 levels. The actual definition of cervicogenic headaches is also not firmly established. One accepted way of defining this disorder is by its clinical characteristics. Specifically, it is a unilateral pain of variable severity that is not stabbing and radiates from posterior to anterior. It doesn’t shift from side to side, is brought on by unusual head position or neck motion and may be associated with shoulder or upper extremity pain on the same side. The biggest issue with this definition is that it overlaps with many of the characteristics of other headache disorders such as tension headaches and migraines without aura. Another way of defining CH is by demonstrating a cervical source of pain and confirming that source with a nerve block.