Is severe pain in the head and neck giving you restless days and sleepless nights? These headaches may occur at any part of the head as well as the back of the neck. The pain intensity may range from mild to moderate to severe pain. Different people suffer from different intensities and patterns of pain in back of head and neck. The causes too differ from person to person. Most of the time, pain at the back of head and neck does not indicate any serious neurological problem. They are easily treated with some over the counter analgesics, bed rest and changes in lifestyle.
What Causes Pain in the Back of Head and Neck?
The head is supported by the vertebrae present in the neck. These vertebrae support the weight of the head as well as provide motion. When the bone alignment changes or the muscles in the neck tighten, it leads to pain at the back of head and neck. So what's the reason behind this pain? As I have already said, the neck bones and muscles help support the head.
When your head is suddenly jerked forward it causes the bones in the neck to pile up on each other. This causes stress on the muscles and nerves of the neck and head. You may feel knots in your neck muscles as well as tension. This triggers headache in the back of the head as well as neck. There are different types of headaches leading to pain in the back of the head and neck. Let's go through them in short below.
The contraction of the head and neck muscles causes tension muscles. This is one of the most common forms of all headaches. In some people, it occurs as a chronic headache due to constant stress, fatigue, poor posture, eye strain, smoking, drinking alcohol and in women who undergo hormonal changes due to menstruation.
Symptoms of Tension Headache
- Tension headache causes generalized pain in the back of head and neck.
- Pain seems like a 'tight band' around the back of the neck as well as head.
- Tightness of the muscles is felt at the back of the neck.
- The headache lasts for a short time, if treated with analgesics.
The second most common cause of pain at the back of head and neck is migraine. The constriction of the blood vessels in the head and neck causes decrease in blood flow. When this occurs, it triggers a nasty migraine attack. This type of headache usually causes a throbbing pain on either side of the head. People suffering from migraine become extremely sensitive to light and sound.
They suffer from nausea and in most cases, only vomiting helps to relieve the headache. This headache occurs due to a long family history of migraine. Other causes include long-term muscle tension, stress, smoking, drinking alcohol, lack of sleep, etc. In some cases, certain types of foods like chocolate, nuts, pickle, cheese, red wine, foods containing preservatives or artificial sweeteners, etc. can trigger a migraine attack. Women suffer from migraine attacks before or during their menstruation cycle and after the use of oral contraceptives.
Symptoms of Migraine Headache
- Migraine causes pulsating pain on one side of the head.
- Pain is either dull or severe and generally begins in the morning.
- The person becomes extremely sensitive to light as well as sound.
- Nausea, vomiting, vertigo and other visual disturbances are felt.
- Pain worsens with time.
- Migraine headache lasts for about a few hours to even 48 hours in severe cases.
Vertebrogenic headaches cause pain in the neck that pulsates into the head. The origin of the pain is generally the neck from where it radiates towards the back of the eyes, ears and sometimes towards the top of the head. This headache generally occurs due to bad posture that leads to misalignment of the vertebra joints and joint dysfunction. Injuries to the neck and head during a car accident or sudden jerk can also lead to vertebrogenic headaches.
Symptoms of Vertebrogenic Headaches
- There is a dull, constant pain on one side of the head.
- A person experiences tenderness in the neck.
- Pain in back of the neck radiates to the back of the head and eyes.
- The duration of headache may vary from couple of hours to a few weeks.
When the muscles of the neck are excessively strained or irritated, it leads to myogenic headaches. This headache is generally caused by stiffness or tightness of the neck muscles due to trauma like whiplash, poor posture, recreational stress, occupational stress, sleeping or standing in awkward positions, etc.
Symptoms of Myogenic Headache
- There is mild to severe pain on one or both sides of the head.
- The pain originates in the neck and radiates to the back of the head as well as jaw.
- The pain may spread to the temples, eyes and even top of the head.
- The neck tends to become resistant to certain movements and cannot carry out its normal range of motion.
- The duration of pain can be a few hours or a couple of weeks.
Treatment for Pain in the Back of Head and Neck
Headaches in back of head and neck are usually treated with paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen. These medications are very helpful in relieving tension headaches as well as vertebrogenic headaches. Migraine and myogenic headaches are also treated with ibuprofen and paracetamol. Avoid trigger factors as well as foods to prevent a nasty migraine attack. There are a group of antimigraine medications called triptans that help in treating migraines to a great extent. These include sumatriptan and zolmitriptan.
In order to avoid pain in back of head and neck, you need to maintain a good posture while sitting, standing and working. Sit on a good chair that supports your posture. Avoid alcohol as well as tobacco as much as possible. Exercise and make sure you get plenty of fresh air. Avoid stress by meditation and yoga. If the headache is persistent, make sure you pay a visit to your general physician. Hope the above information has helped you understand why one suffers from back of the head and neck pain.