Have you experienced a sharp pain right at the back of your head? Most of the headaches are the result of muscle tightness, stress, over use of medications, tension, and tiredness. Sometimes pain in the base of the skull may be caused by Occipital neuralgia which is the condition that mostly effect the nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp.
Some headaches may be caused due to serious conditions like some disease or tumors. If you start experiencing chronic pains in your head and have some symptoms like nausea or dizziness, you should always see your doctor.
Mostly, the pain at the back of the head occurs due to the combination of one or more factors that directly affect your brain. According to Mayo Clinic, these factors can be the nerves of blood vessels that surround your skull, some chemical activity in the brain, or muscles at the back of neck and head. Also some people are more prone to these headaches than others.
Knowing the real cause of headaches can surely help you know ways to manage or prevent the pain you normally experience in the back of your head.
What are the Reasons for the Pain in the Back of the Head?
Migraines can sometimes cause severe headaches around the temples and eyes and this pain can spread to the back of the head. Sometimes migraine may also cause acute neck pain.
Most often migraines are preceded by aura-partial loss of vision, flashing lights, pins and needles, numbness, and possibly speech issues. Migraine can also be accompanied by poor concentration, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sound and light. According to Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute, for most people, “a migraine is a familiar and distinct event with predictable duration and resolution.
Doctors believe that migraines occur due to change in brain’s nerve cell activity and blood flow. Migraines are triggered by hormonal factors, stress, certain foods, depression, caffeine, muscle tension, and fatigue. Sometimes environmental factors, such as changes in weather, flickering lights and strong smells can also trigger migraines.
I’ve also mentioned in few of my articles that migraines can also be caused by some nutritional deficiencies.
To prevent migraine headaches, most doctors recommend trying to avoid all possible triggers of your migraines.
Tight Muscle Headaches / Muscle Strain
You may experience sharp pain at the back of neck and head along with stiffness in your shoulders and neck. This type of pain is mostly caused by strained or injured muscles.
Dr. Jennifer H. Bland on WebMD says that the main reason for tight muscles which causes pain in the back of neck and head are:
- Sleeping with your pillow that doesn’t offer any support to your head
- Continuously holding your head in on position for a long time
- Tension caused due to stress
- Injuring the spine or neck due to some accident
Sometimes tight neck muscles may also cause sharp pain in the back of your head when you turn it.
This type of pain can be resolved with medications or you can get some relief with yoga and meditation.
Tension headaches are mostly caused by tiredness or some type of emotional stress and start with mild pain at the back of your head and then move towards the front. According to the University of Maryland, tension headaches cause pain in your scalp, neck, and head and can affect both the left and right side of your head. All those who suffer from tension headaches say they feel as if there’s some tight band around their head.
Dr. Neil B. Lava, director of Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Emory University, says that most of the tension headaches are sparked by tight muscles at the back of the neck. This can result from factors like fatigue, emotional stress, low iron levels, hunger and bad posture. Besides pain in your head, you may also feel irritated and sensitive to noise or light.
Dr. Lava says that tension headaches don’t usually cause nausea, weakness, stomach pain, or blurred vision.
Doctors usually recommend steps to practice relaxation techniques and manage stress to prevent a pain in the back of your head which is mostly caused by tension headaches.
Neurologist, Dr. Jack V. Campellone recommends use of good posture when going out for daily activities. For instance, if your job entails you to sit on desk all thorugh the day, doing some close-up work or repetitive work, take some time out to exercise and stretch your shoulders and neck.
It’s also helpful if you maintain a diary to identify triggers of your tension headache and if they’re responsible for the pain at the back of your head.
You can get some relief from tension headache by trying some relaxation techniques or you can gently massage the back of your head and your temples. Sometimes pain medicine may also help, but doctors warn that any overuse of pain medication may also result in headaches (rebound headaches).
If you feel you get sharp pain at the back of your head when you sneeze, blow your nose, cough, or even bend over you could have what many doctors call a “coughing headache”. According to Mayo Clinic, this can cause a stabbing, sharp pain at the back of your head. It’s still not clear what causes coughing headaches.
The easiest way to prevent coughing headaches is to try and avoid its triggers. So, try to keep yourself fit and fine to avoid sneezing, colds or any other action which can possibly pressure your brain.
A jabbing sharp pain that sometimes feels like an electric shock at the back of the head could actually be a symptom of occipital neuralgia. You may also find that your scalp is tender to touch and even a simple task like brushing your hair can cause pain. This type of pain can be caused by inflammation in the nerves at the back of your head.
According to American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), occipital neuralgia can cause acute pain in the back of your head which may radiate to just one side of your head, but may also be felt on both sides of your head.
To ease the pain due to occipital neuralgia, AANS recommends the rest and use of gentle heat treatments to get rid of headache pain caused by occipital neuralgia. You can also use different types of essential oils to reduce the pain.
Doctors use different treatments to handle occipital neuralgia and migraines. Therefore, it’s important for you to understand your symptoms to get the best possible treatment for your headaches.
If you have double vision, dizziness, and lack of coordination before you experience severe pains in your head, then you surely suffer from basilar migraine. Dr. Miracure of patient.info says that basilar migraine causes headaches right at the back of the head. This pain can be pulsating and throbbing.
The causes of basilar migraine are similar to regular migraine.
Sharp Pain in the Back of Head Immediately After Sex
Some people often joke about connection between sexual activity and headaches. However, any kind of sexual activity may result in dull pain in the back of your neck and head that may increase with sexual excitement.
The American Headache Society describes this condition as “headaches associated with sexual activity” (HAS). Although these headaches are harmless, they can have some negative impact on both the partners because of the fear that their sexual activity may lead to severe headache.
If you experience headache during or after sex, it’s best to discuss this with your partner as this can help alleviate any fear associated with sexual activity and headaches. Sometimes, taking a more passive role can help in preventing such headaches.
Some people may experience throbbing pain at the back of their head when lifting weight or working out. Some may find they suffer from headaches after jogging. Most of the exercise headaches happen because the blood vessels at the back of the neck and head dilate and may cause intense pain.
Dr. Natasha J. Marin on WebMD says that there is usually nothing to worry about these exercise headaches and that they can be easily treated with some pain-relief medication. However, if your exercise headaches have recently started and are accompanied by vomiting, nausea, loss of consciousness, a stiff neck, and/or double vision, you should contact your doctor immediately.
In some cases, it’s possible to prevent headaches associated with exercises by gently warming up before running, working out, or exercising.
Severe bouts of jabbing or shooting pain in and around the face, head, and the back of the neck can be a symptom of trigeminal neuralgia. The pain is caused by trigeminal neuralgia “described as unbearably painful human condition,”.
The trigeminal nerve is situated right at the base of the brain and if any vein or artery puts pressure on it, it may result in severe pain along the length of the nerve. Usually, the patient may feel pain just on one side of the face around the lips, jaw, cheek and gums, but it can also extend to the back of neck and head.
All those who suffer from arthritis may experience headaches at the back of their neck and head. Orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Samson F. Ullrich says that the inflammation in the facet joints of the cervical spine between the base of the head and shoulders may cause pain at the back of the head.
Although arthritis is a difficult condition to treat and manage, there are many natural remedies for managing arthritis that can also help you find some relief from arthritic pain.
Rebound Headache (Medication Overuse Headache)
If you’re suffering from recurring headaches and you’ve been regularly taking pain-relief medications you could be suffering from Medication Overuse Headaches or rebound headaches.
A 2012 report by Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute (MHNI) says that regular intake of analgesic medications 3 times a week can cause rebound headaches.
MHNI recommends immediate stopping taking various analgesics regularly to break this cycle of headaches caused due to overuse of medication. At first, this may lead to more intense pain, but with time people will feel amazing improvement in pain.
There are many ways that can help you get rid of headaches naturally and reduce head pain that they cause.
Giant Cell Arteritis (Temporal Arteritis)
A headache that develops suddenly in the temples, at the top or back of the head and is tender to touch can be caused due to giant cell arteritis (inflammation of blood vessels in and around the scalp). In some cases, the temples may also swell causing excruciating pain in the head. In these circumstances, most of the painkillers are ineffective in treating the pain.
Headaches are main symptoms of giant cell artertis and they mostly occur due to inflammation of arteries in the head.
If you suspect you have giant cell arteritis, immediately visit your doctor because timely treatment is essential to prevent further serious complications.
In some cases, sharp pain in the back of your head can be a symptom of some kind of brain tumor. However, this is rarely a symptom of acute pains in your head.
Neurologist, Dr. Alican T. Prestergaard says that generally headaches that are mild, occasional, of short duration and are caused by some identifiable factors are not the cause of any concern. It’s also rare that headache alone is the symptom of brain tumor.
It’s best to visit a doctor if you’ve noticed some change in the intensity and frequency of your headaches.
When is the Best Time to Consult a Doctor?
Mostly, a throbbing sharp pain at the back of your head is harmless, and can be easily managed. However, as I’ve discussed in this article, neck pain and headaches can be symptoms of more serious health conditions.
However, you might ask: “when is the best time to call a doctor if I experience a pain in the back of my head?”
According to National Headache Foundation, you should visit a healthcare professional if you have any of the following conditions:
- Your headaches are accompanied by vomiting, nausea, fever, confusion, stiff neck, slurred speech, frequent bouts of nausea, and vision loss
- Frequent headaches that come quickly and are severe
- Headache affects your daily activities
- You experience constant throbbing pain in your head that won’t stop or get worse
- You’re force to take pain-relief medication more than twice a week
- The symptoms of your migraine headaches change
- You’ve been experiencing headaches following a head injury