Difference Between Migraine and Cervicogenic Headache

Migraine and cervicogenic headache are two different types of headaches that can cause severe pain and discomfort. While they may have some similar symptoms, they have distinct causes and treatments.

What is Migraine?

headaches are characterized by spasms and subsequent dilatation of the blood vessels in the dura mater. When trigeminal neurons are stimulated, their terminals go to the walls of blood vessels, where they produce physiologically active chemicals, resulting in localized neurogenic inflammation and edema.

Although its exact cause is still unknown, it is recognized that genetics play a significant part in migraine development. Bouts can be triggered by −

  • Hormonal changes (e.g., menstruation)

  • Stress

  • Fatigue

  • Insufficient sleep

  • Meteorological changes

  • Prolonged sun exposure

  • Noise

  • Certain odors

  • Certain foods and beverages: chocolate, nuts, citrus fruits, sausages, cheese, coffee, tea, alcohol

  • Medications − nitro drugs, hormonal contraceptives, oral antidiabetic drugs.

In general, migraine has four stages, but not every patient with migraines goes through all of them. The stages and the respective symptoms are −

  • Prodrome (a day or two before a migraine)

    • Neck stiffness

    • Mood changes

    • Increased thirst

    • Food cravings

    • Frequent yawning

  • Aura (before or during migraines)

    • Vision loss

    • Seeing flashes of light, bright spots, different shapes

    • Hearing noises

    • Pins and needles sensations in the limbs

    • Numbness or weakness in the face

  • Attack

    • Pain on one side and rarely on both sides of the head

    • Pain in the head that throbs or pulses

    • Nausea and vomiting

    • Facial pressure

    • Congestion, nasal discharge

    • Sensitivity to sound, light, rarely – to smell and touch

  • Post-drome

    • Tiredness

    • Confusion

    • Pain after sudden head movement

Migraine is diagnosed using a patient's anamnesis, which details the headache's history and associated symptoms, as well as any relevant personal or familial details, such as how the pain has changed since they last went to sleep.

Avoiding triggers, such as certain foods, is an important part of migraine management.

It is advised that, during an attack, the patient be placed in a supine posture in a dark, quiet environment. Assault medications include −

  • Analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

  • Ergotamine derivatives

  • Antiemetics against nausea and vomiting.

If the attacks occur more than 3 times a month, drug prophylaxis is undertaken for several months with −

  • Beta-blockers

  • Calcium antagonists

  • Tricyclic antidepressants

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

What is Cervicogenic Headache?

A cervicogenic headache is caused by issues in the cervical spine, yet the patient typically reports head pain.

  • Symptoms − Moving your neck or staying in one position for too long both cause pain. This kind of discomfort is unlike the pulsing or throbbing sensations associated with migraines. The discomfort is localized, and the neck is frequently tight and unpleasant. E You could feel a dull ache in your brain for a few hours, or it might last for days.

  • Diagnosis − The symptoms and the presence or absence of any neck issues are taken into account during the physical examination that leads to a diagnosis. Imaging modalities such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs can be useful in identifying neck issues and ruling out other potential causes of head discomfort.

  • Causes − Cervicogenic headaches often originate in the cervical spine and its surrounding structures. Muscle strain, back discomfort, and issues with your cervical spine are all possible outcomes. Sports-related injuries and whiplash from automobile accidents are two more common causes of tension headaches. This sort of headache is common among the elderly, and it is often brought on by neck arthritis.

  • Treatment − Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are effective pain relievers for a cervicogenic headache. If your discomfort is being caused by pinched nerves in your neck, you may benefit from a nerve block.

Differences: Migraine and Cervicogenic Headache

The following table highlights the major differences between Migraine and Cervicogenic Headache −


Migraine Headache

Cervicogenic Headache


Migraines cause throbbing pain on one side of the head and frequently accompany other symptoms such as nausea and dizziness.

When the source of the pain is the cervical spine, the condition is known as a cervicogenic headache.


Migraines are characterised by throbbing pain on one side of the head, as well as dizziness, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and nausea.

Cervicogenic headaches are characterised by constant, non-throbbing head pain, as well as discomfort or stiffness in the neck.


Food additives, hormonal shifts, and extreme changes in temperature or humidity can all bring on a migraine.

An abrupt change in posture or prolonged sitting might cause a cervicogenic headache.


Migraines have several potential triggers, including heredity, hormone or climatic changes, and even certain dietary additives.

Injuries or accidents to the neck are often the root cause of cervicogenic headaches.


Temporary relief from a migraine can be achieved with pain relievers and anti-emetics, but long-term prevention is often achieved with beta-blockers or anti-seizure medicines.

Analgesics, including NSAIDs or a nerve block, are effective treatments for cervicogenic headache.


Females, in particular, are more likely to suffer from migraines than men.

There does not appear to be a gender difference in the prevalence of cervicogenic headaches.


In conclusion, migraine and cervicogenic headache are two distinct types of headaches that have different causes and symptoms. While they may have some similar characteristics, they are treated differently and require different approaches to manage the pain and discomfort. It is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional to determine the specific type of headache and receive an appropriate treatment.

Updated on: 26-Apr-2023


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