When you have a headache, you don’t have the time to settle whether it’s a cervicogenic or a migraine! But if you’re a veteran applying for disability, the difference can matter a lot.
This pain goes far beyond a simple normal headache and the VA understands just how bad it can affect your life.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for the average person to understand the difference between cervicogenic and migraine headaches. And without understanding the differences, you might not get the VA rating you deserve.
How, then, does the VA rate these two types of headaches differently? Keep reading to discover our comprehensive guide!
In This Article on Cervicogenic Headache VA Ratings:
- What Is a Cervicogenic Headache?
- What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?
- Treating and Managing Cervicogenic Headaches
- What Is a Migraine Headache?
- The Cause of Migraine Headaches
- Treating and Managing Migraine Headaches
- Are Cervicogenic and Migraine Headaches Rated Differently?
- What Disability Ratings Are Available?
- The Importance of the Term “Prostrating”
- Getting the Right Diagnosis
- Can You Get 50% Disability While Still Working?
- The Need for Professional Representation
- What Comes Next?
What Is a Cervicogenic Headache?
We’ve put together a complete guide to help you understand these different headaches and how they impact VA disability claims.
What is a cervicogenic headache? The word “cervicogenic” may be a mouthful, but it basically translates to pain that comes from your neck.
You might notice such pain when you move your neck, or even when you keep your neck in a similar position for long periods of time. Pain may “stay” in one spot for a long time and keep you from moving your neck.
It might feel like pain on an entire side of your face. And the pain you feel will be very steady instead of “throbbing” like a typical headache.
This results in headaches that are much like migraines. They may cause very intense pain, and this can last for hours or even for days.
To make things more confusing, some of the symptoms of cervicogenic headaches are the same as symptoms of migraine headaches. This includes throwing up, experiencing blurry vision, and feeling sick in the presence of bright lights.
It’s even possible to experience both a cervicogenic headache and a migraine headache at the same time. That’s why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from your physician.
What Causes Cervicogenic Headaches?
In some cases, it’s simply a matter of where you rest your head while working. Someone who drives for a living may develop these headaches from constantly holding his or her neck in a certain position. And manual laborers such as carpenters may develop these headaches after making certain neck movements while they work.
In other cases, these headaches are caused by specific injuries or external events. Falls and car accidents are common causes of cervicogenic headaches. Beyond that, arthritis and neck compression can also lead to these headaches.
Unfortunately, there are many ways that a veteran may end up with these headaches as part of anything from combat to their daily work routine. The good news is that this may make it easier to prove a service connection to your headaches.
Treating and Managing Cervicogenic Headaches
Accurately diagnosing cervicogenic headaches is only one part of the equation. And even getting a high disability rating for it means little if you aren’t properly treating and managing your pain.
How can you deal with this debilitating pain? When it’s mild, anti-inflammatories like aspirin and ibuprofen may do the trick. When the pain is more extreme, you may need stronger pain relievers or even muscle relaxers to deal with the intense discomfort.
Some veterans who suffer from these headaches get a nerve block. While the block is only temporary, it can keep the pain away while you pursue additional pain management options.
One of the most effective ways of managing these headaches is with physical therapy. You can work with a medical professional and develop a regimen or stretches and exercises that help get the pain under control.
When medication and physical therapy aren’t enough, you may need to pursue more serious options. These include spinal manipulation and even surgery.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
What Is a Migraine Headache?
Unlike “cervicogenic,” the word “migraine” is one that most people are familiar with. However, most people don’t understand what migraines are all about.
A migraine is a very intense headache that may be followed by other symptoms. This includes light-sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting.
You may be able to detect a migraine before it occurs. Many who experience these headaches describe changes in their appetite, thirst, mood, energy level, and sensitivity (mostly to things like light, smell, and sound) before the onset of a migraine.
The worst part of a migraine may “only” last for 3-4 hours. However, it can be far longer. And even if the worst of it passes quickly, the entire process (from detecting it to experiencing it to recovering from it) may last for several days.
To make matters worse, there are multiple types of migraines that may affect you in different ways. Vestibular migraines, for example, affect your sense of balance. And ophthalmic migraines can even cause a complete (but temporary) loss of vision in one of your eyes!
The Cause of Migraine Headaches
As we noted before, migraine headaches are often confused with cervicogenic headaches. The pain may be similar, and there are some overlapping symptoms. However, migraine headaches are not caused by neck pain.
In fact, the most annoying thing about migraines is that multiple things may trigger them. Some people experience light-triggered migraines, while other people may get migraines from fatigue or changes in the weather. Doctors haven’t discovered the primary cause of migraines, but the migraine triggers above are passed down genetically from parent to child.
Some people are more or less susceptible to migraines based on a variety of factors. Women are far likelier to get migraines, as are those between the age of 10 and 40. And other medical conditions may make you more susceptible, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, epilepsy, and sleeping disorders.
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Treating and Managing Migraine Headaches
Obviously, a migraine can be very debilitating. And how you treat and manage a migraine is typically related to its overall intensity.
For direct pain, many people rely on over-the-counter pain medication. Just be wary of medications that may enhance your headache rather than alleviate it.
It is not healthy to take such medications multiple times a week, though. To avoid dependency and get better relief, you should talk to your doctor about prescription medication if you take OTC meds more than twice a week.
If you get very intense nausea with your migraine, your doctor may prescribe separate medication for this. And if you have extreme sensitivity to light or sound, your doctor may prescribe lasmiditan. Similarly, he or she may prescribe things like ergotamine and triptans to help balance out the chemicals in your brain.
There are other potential treatments, including Nurtec and Ubrelvy. And various other medicines to manage blood pressure, seizures, and depression can serve as preventative medicine against future migraine headaches.
There are a number of back injuries that can earn VA disability even years later. One of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains some of those injuries and their ratings in this video:
Are Cervicogenic and Migraine Headaches Rated Differently?
Now you know plenty about both cervicogenic and migraine headaches. And this brings us to the central question: are these headaches rated differently by the VA?
The short answer to this is “no.” To the VA, cervicogenic headaches are actually analogous to migraines and are rated the same way. The VA doesn’t focus so much on the diagnosis as the results of the symptoms for a number of disabilities.
In order to strengthen your case, you must first understand the different potential headache ratings that are available.
What Disability Ratings Are Available?
When it comes to both cervicogenic and migraine headaches, there are four possible VA ratings. These ratings are 0%, 10%, 30%, and 50%.
The 0% rating is reserved for low-frequency headache attacks. They may be very intense headaches, but if they aren’t frequent enough to be disruptive, you may get a low rating.
The 10% rating is for those who experience prostrating headache attacks on an average of one per two months over a period of several months. This means you are regularly experiencing severe and debilitating headaches.
The 30% rating is for those who receive severe and debilitating headaches on an average of once a month over a period of several months. Finally, the 50% rating is for those who experience severe and debilitating headaches so often that it begins to affect their ability to work.
Of course, the natural follow-up question: how can you get the highest-possible rating? In many cases, it comes down to proving that your headaches are “prostrating” in nature.
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The Importance of the Term “Prostrating”
“Prostrating” is not a word you see very often. The root word “prostrate,” literally means “laying face down on the floor.” You might consider a prostrating headache one that is so intense that you are forced to lay down.
Sometimes, the word is a little less literal. An attack might be considered “prostrating” if it brings about extreme exhaustion, weakness, and fatigue.
Long story short – there is a bit of room for interpretation when it comes to whether your attacks are “prostrating” or not. But the VA cannot assess this unless you can provide proper medical evidence. You could also bring in a journal where you record the frequency and severity of the attacks. Lay statements from family, friends, or past employers are also a good way to prove your rating to the VA.
As always, we recommend getting all of your evidence and paperwork ready before filing for disability. If you’re worried about filing this paperwork or challenging the VA on their decision, you may want to track down a good disability attorney first. You can call us and ask our case managers all the questions you want for free. We work with headache disability claims for veterans all the time.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
We typically think of getting a medical diagnosis as a one-way action. The doctor does all of the work while we lay back and wait for his or her assessment.
However, you and the doctor need to be more of a team as you prepare to file for disability. You’re going to need to talk to the doctor and drop in the right keywords while you’re there. We also have doctors on staff that will look over your records to make sure we aren’t missing anything.
For example, you need to use the word “prostrating.” Tell the doctor about the intensity of the headaches and how you have to deal with it (for example, that you have to lay down in a dark room for a few hours when it happens). If you miss out on time with your grandkids or even get fired from a job because of your headache, tell the doctor all about it at your C&P exam.
The doctor may need some kind of evidence or documentation about the frequency of your attacks. That’s why we recommend third-party apps such as Migraine Buddy or a written notebook journal to document your attacks and their frequency. You can then use this to generate the kind of reports your doctor will need to complete his diagnosis.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Can You Get 50% Disability While Still Working?
With disability ratings, the exact word choice is very important. However, the word choice surrounding the 50% disability for headaches is one that confuses many people.
The first requirement of the 50% rating concerns “frequent completely prostrating attacks,” which is pretty straightforward. But the second part mentions “prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability.”
That second part has caused many applicants to ask if they can still get a 50% rating while working a job. And technically, the answer is yes: the VA’s own Migraine Diagnostic Code 8100 does not specify you must be out of work to get the 50% rating.
So, what does “of severe economic inadaptability” actually mean? It can mean that someone is unable to work. However, it can also mean that these headaches might eventually hurt your ability to work.
You may still have your job, including a supportive boss and coworkers. But if your headaches are bad enough to potentially jeopardize your employment, you can potentially get the 50% rating.
The Need for Professional Representation
As you can tell, getting the highest disability rating for your headaches is very complicated. It involves understanding your medical history, your recent diagnoses, and mastering both the documentation and legal precedents of VA wording.
That’s why we recommend having a reliable disability lawyer on your side. They can help you collect evidence and get everything right the first time. And if you need to challenge the VA’s decision, you’ll already have someone on your side who fully understands your case.
A behind the scenes look at who works for you at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm
What Comes Next?
Now you know about the VA disability ratings for cervicogenic and migraine headaches. But do you know who can help you get the rating you deserve?
Here at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, we love helping veterans with every step of their disability application. Whether you need help with anything from gathering initial evidence to appealing the VA’s decision, contact us today!
No, they are both rated in the same way. What is important is to be clear about how badly your headaches affect your normal way of life and what other disabilities you have with the headaches.
There are veterans that have been awarded a secondary service connection for alcohol abuse because of their pain or PTSD. Give us a call and let’s look at your whole case with the VA.