Pain in back of head and neck can be a cause of great worry and a constant problem in day to day life. This pain can be occasional or constant depending upon the cause. In most of the cases, it is due to exhaustion, incorrect posture and strain but in some cases, it can also be caused due to serious problems like herniated disc, sinus infections and several other disorders about which you will learn in the next section of this article.
In most of the cases, pain in back of head and neck is not a serious illness and may go away with mild treatment. However, in some cases immediate medical attention and long-term treatment may be required.
23 Causes of pain in Back of Head and Neck
- Tension headaches :- When the muscles tighten in the head or neck, it might lead to a tension headache. It can be caused by multiple factors, which include grinding the teeth, exhaustion of sleep, anxiety, poor posture and others. This type of a headache begins in the neck or back of the head while producing pain.
- Vascular Headaches :- This is experienced in the form of a dull pain, which is caused on one side of the head. This is triggered by stress along with anxiety or lack of sleep. As a result, it causes nausea and vomiting.
- Migraine :- This is caused due to problems associated with neck, which can often be treated for reducing the frequency and severity of the pain. This is more common among women than in men.
- Cervicogenic headaches :- This headache is a result of disorders of the neck, which includes poor posture, stress and other factors. The pain further radiates into the upper back, back of the head, shoulders along with other parts of the head.
- Sinus headaches :- When the sphenoid sinuses are inflamed or get infected, it can lead to pain in the back of the head. It gets worse when you lie down or bend forward.
- Occipital Neuralgia :- This causes when the nerves present at the base of the skull are damaged or inflamed. This results in pain caused in the back of the head.
- Ice-cream headache :- These are mostly felt in the temples and face. This also occurs at times in the back of the head.
- Neck-tongue syndrome :- As the name suggests, the injury in the neck leads to a disturbance in the sense of taste in the tongue. This is caused as a result of irritation taking place on the 2nd cervical nerve.
- Accessory Nerve palsy :- This is a result of the damage caused by the accessory nerve. This causes severe pain caused in the neck and shoulder of the side that is affected.
- Parkinson’s Disease :- Around ⅓ of people who have Parkinson disease complain about the pain caused in the back of the neck and head, though the causes are not well understood.
- Strain or Sprain :- Any kind of sprain or strain caused by the muscles of the neck causes severe pain in the neck, which further radiates back in the head. A common type is a whiplash, which caused due to a motor vehicle accident or sports injuries.
- Poor posture :- Sprain injury or strain is a result of poor posture. When the muscles become weak, it leads to causing pain in the back of the neck and also into the head. When the muscles become weak. It is likely to cause pain.
- Arthritis :- The joints present in the neck between the vertebrae are prone to arthritis as a result of the repetitive motion of the neck. It can cause pain in the neck, which is associated with the movement. It further leads to bone spurs.
- Bone spurs :- The bony growths are a result of the excessive motion of the neck, which leads to the bones rubbing together. The problem that arises is, it puts pressure on surrounding muscles along with nerves, which causes muscle spasms along with pinched nerves, which causes severe pain. The injuries usually cause severe pain in the back of the neck due to radiation of pain into the back of the head.
- Tumors :- Cancer or another benign tumor can be present in the soft tissue or in the bony structures. With the growth of the tumor, it causes pain the back of the head and neck. When the tumor grows, the pain might be caused.
- Herniated Disc :- A disc herniation can occur in the spine due to high intensity of pressure on the cervical spine because of constant motion and stress on it. When a disc slips from its normal position, it can cause a slip disc resulting in an inflammatory reaction which leads to irritation of nerve roots. This results in pain in back of head and neck.
- Whiplash :- A whiplash occurs when a person suffers a sudden jerk or the head moves backward and then forward all of a sudden. In such a situation, the soft tissues of the neck extend beyond a limit and this results in pain in back of head and neck. Whiplash occurs mostly because of injuries, physical abuse or accidents like car collisions.
- Wry Neck (Torticollis) :- A wry neck is a painful condition marked by twisting or tilting of the neck. In this case, the top of the head moves to one side while the chin moves to the other. A damage to the neck muscles can result in pain in back of head and neck.
- Fibromyalgia :- Fibromyalgia is a chronic illness which is marked by widespread pain in body muscles and bones, mild to severe pain on the tender points and constant fatigue. One of the tender points is the area at the back of neck and head which starts paining when you get tired or fatigued.
- Meningitis :- Meningitis is a life threatening condition which is marked by the inflammation of the meninges and infection of the fluid surrounding the meninges. The meninges are the three membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord. The microorganisms responsible for this infection are often virus and bacteria and it requires immediate medical condition. Pain in back of head and neck is one of the symptoms of Meningitis.
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica :- Polymyalgia Rheumatica is an inflammatory disease marked by muscle stiffness and pain, especially pain in the back of head and neck and shoulders. The pain is often so severe, that it can interfere in day to day activities. The symptoms can appear suddenly and are worse in the morning.
- Spinal Stenosis :- Spinal Stenosis is a problem in which the spinal column becomes narrow and starts compressing the spinal cord. The spinal nerves that run across the vertebrae and send signals to the brain and the rest of the body start compressing and can also cause pain in the back of head and neck. It can also cause problem in daily activities like walking, running and balancing.
- Subacute Thyroiditis :- It is a type of inflammation of the thyroid gland, which causes acute pain in the gland and the surrounding areas. Some common symptoms of this problem are fatigue, body weakness and muscular pain. Pain in back of head and neck is also one of the common symptoms of Subacute Thyroiditis.
Symptoms of Pain in Back of Head and Neck
Some other symptoms that are accompanied with pain in back of head and neck are:
1. A slight pressure around the ear and eyes
2. Pain in the scalp area
3. Pain in the temples
4. Difficulty in sleeping
Treatment for pain in Back of head and Neck
- Rest and Sleep :- Healthcare providers recommend for resting in the affected area when in cases of muscle or ligament strain. The cervical collar might be recommended by the doctor to be worn for a few days.
- Heat and Ice :- The altering use of heat and ice can be used for treating pain in the neck and back. Most practitioners recommend the use of cold for decreasing swelling. Cold therapy and cold packs applied locally can help a great deal in reducing inflammation, while hot packs can increase blood flow and speed up healing.
- OTC Pain Killers :- Over-the-counter pain relievers, which include aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen are very effective for treatment of acute pain caused by the head and neck. Ibuprofen along with other anti-inflammatories is very effective when the pain caused due to inflammation or swelling.
- Exercises :- Stretching exercises along with neck massage help in relieving stiffness caused in the muscles. It is extremely important to avoid exercise until being evaluated by the doctor. Only after a complete evaluation, it is safe to start a program of exercise.
- Things to Avoid :- When individuals suffer from pain in neck and back of the head, following things should be followed.
- Try avoiding additional injury, which might cause further damage.
- Avoid coming to bright sunlight or bright light, which might cause a headache.
- Consumption of a large amount of caffeine can cause a headache. However, cutting out on caffeine can also lead to a headache.
- Avoid chewing soft candy or gum, which can cause neck muscle and jaw stiffness.
- Salt and MSG have known triggers of headaches.
- Smoking and consumption of alcohol lead to headaches, in addition to other health problems.
Home Remedies for pain in Back of head and Neck
- Almonds :- Instead of opting for pain relief medication, pop some almonds. Almonds are one of the best and most effective natural treatments for all kinds of muscle stiffness and pain. It contains a chemical called salicin which is also used in popular over the counter pain killers.
- Apple Cider Compress :- Apple Cider Vinegar is believed to be one of the most effective natural agents for various kinds of medical ailments. Mix 1/4th cup of Apple Cider Vinegar with a bowl of lukewarm water. Dip a towel and apply at the back of the head to relieve pressure and pain in back of head and neck.
- Avoid Monosodium Glutamate :- Monosodium Glutamate is a flavoring agent used in variety of food items. Many people suffer headaches and pain in various parts of head and neck on consuming it. Be careful with food that contain MSG if you are suffering from any kind of head or back pain.
- Apply Peppermint Oil :- Peppermint oil can be applied to the spot where you are experiencing pain. It has an amazing soothing and healing effect and helps in dealing with muscular pain and cramps.
- Cut Down on Caffeine Consumption :- Try to avoid chocolate and drinks like coffee, that contain caffeine. It is a common trigger for headache, further causing pain in back of head and neck.