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Headaches in the Back of the Head

Headaches in the Back of the Head

Headaches in the back of the head is not as common as the pain that affects the front part, especially the temple. Discussed in this article are the factors that may trigger or cause such a problem, along with its treatment options and a few preventive measures.
Ujwal Deshmukh
Last Updated: May 6, 2018
The Very-so-common Headache
The American Pain Foundation states that around 90% of headaches which are not due to any disease, are generally tension headaches, i.e. aches at the rear of the head.

Headaches are felt in many parts of the head. For some people, it might be the entire head that aches, in others, it might be a one-sided pain (commonly called migraine), and in a few others, it would be only the upper or lower part of the head. Apart from all these forms of headaches, have you heard of headaches in the back of the head? Yes, these kinds of headaches are medically termed as tension headaches. Such headaches, sometimes become so severe, that it gets very difficult for a person to concentrate on his work. One can feel the pain even with the slightest movement of the body. Sometimes, severe pain can be experienced even while performing tasks like talking and eating.
What Causes Tension Headaches?
Although headaches in the back of the head are a common occurrence, the real cause(s) of such kind of headaches are still unknown. It is believed that tension headaches are caused due to muscle spasms in the back of the neck and head region. However, on the basis of careful observations, experts have come up with a few probable causes.

Fatigue or overexertion
Eye strain
Mental stress (depression and tension)
Dental issues (jaw clenching and teeth grinding)
Smoking and alcohol addiction (or their sudden withdrawal)
Keeping the head in one position for a long time (continuous driving or working in front of the computer)
Improper posture, unhealthy lifestyle, and lack of regular exercise
Some secondary causes include cluster headaches and sinus infection
In some cases, heredity factors might also be a potential reason behind headaches
Signs and Symptoms
  • Pressure-like and dull pain at the temple and the rear of the head
  • A feeling of tightness throughout the forehead and at the back region of the head
  • Soreness on the shoulder, neck, and scalp area
Usually, the pain may last for half an hour to seven days. It might set off or become intense due to a loud noise, extreme tiredness, or stress. An individual having a tension headache may have difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
Treatment Options
Mostly, painkillers are widely used to get relief from tension headaches. It is observed that most of the time, painkillers give temporary relief, but the headache might come back after a few days. Therefore, managing day-to-day stress and tension, meditation, following a healthy diet, and getting sufficient sleep, are some measures that can help prevent headaches. A few medications that aid in alleviating tension headaches are mentioned below.

Over-the-counter pain relievers:-
Naproxen (e.g. Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn, etc.)
Ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin, Ibuprin, Rufen, etc.)
Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol)
Combination of aspirin, caffeine, and acetaminophen (e.g. Excedrin)

It is not advisable to take over-the-counter medicines more than three times a week, as it might just lead to rebound headaches, and they are slightly different from tension headaches. Rebound headaches generally occur when the headache medications have worn out.

Prescription or ethical drugs to relieve pain:-
Narcotic analgesics (e.g. Buprenorphine)
Barbiturates (e.g. Barbital, Phenobarbital, etc.)

Only in cases of an acute headache at the back of the head, a doctor might prescribe the above-mentioned drugs to arrest the issue. However, these prescribed medications can be addictive, and hence should be taken only if extremely necessary, and that too for a very short period of time.

Ethical drugs are only to be taken if...
... the headaches are present for more than 2 weeks in a month.
... over-the-counter medications fail to alleviate the pain.
... an individual is taking any kind of pain medication more than thrice a week, to get rid of the headache.

The Hot & Cold Way To Palliate a Tension Headache

Hot Approach - Soak your feet in a hot water tub. This process will pull your blood to your feet, and ease the pressure on the blood vessels in the head, thereby alleviating the headache. The extra force on the blood vessels, along with muscular contraction of the head and neck region is the chief cause of tension headaches.

Cold Approach - Dip your hands and soak them in ice-chilled water for as long as it is bearable. While the hands are soaked in the water, try to open and close your fists; this method will give you relief from this form of headache. The coldness of the water distends the blood vessels and eases the nerve pressure in the head.
Preventive Measures
Practice stress management techniques like meditation and relaxation therapy.
Maintain a proper posture while working, reading, etc.
Keep yourself well-hydrated, get plenty of rest and sleep.
Keep yourself covered and warm, in case the headache is due to cold.
Try using a different pillow than usual, and maintain proper sleeping positions.
Neck and shoulder exercises are a must at regular intervals, while working on computers.
For a chronic tension headache, the biofeedback technique helps improve relaxation exercises.
Muscle relaxants such as Tizanidine, and massaging sore muscles might also help.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is purely for informative purposes, and should not be treated as a replacement for professional medical advice.