Headache in the back of the head, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment

A headache in the back of the head, regardless of location and severity, negatively affects the general condition of a person. Pain is one of the most common types of syndrome. Among the variety of reasons, one can single out both banal overwork and dangerous conditions that threaten the patient’s life. Getting rid of pain impulses is possible after a detailed examination of the patient. Treatment is based on pharmacotherapy, physiotherapy and traditional medicine recipes.

Occipital pain

A common cause of poor health in people of all ages is a headache in the back of the head. It can be piercing, barely noticeable, oppressive, pulsating, short or long, but regardless of the nature and duration of the syndrome, pain in the occipital region significantly affects the quality of life.

The back of the skull is called the back of the head, which connects to the cervical spine. This area is equipped with a network of large blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells. A common cause of pain is a narrowing of the lumen of the main arteries, which leads to hypoxia (oxygen starvation), resulting in pain in the back of the head.

The belief that pain impulses can occur only due to damage to the localized area of ​​pain in the back of the head is deceptive. Often the focus of irritation of nerve endings is a part of the body or organ that is not directly connected to the head. Therefore, to successfully get rid of soreness, the etiology should be identified and only then proceed with treatment.


In medical practice, nape pain is distinguished as an independent syndrome. Soreness can be a sign of diseases of various etiologies. Sometimes focusing on pain causes certain difficulties in diagnosing a pathology, the characteristic symptoms of which go unnoticed. Therefore, with frequent pain you need to carefully “listen” to your body, so as not to miss the appearance that will help determine the cause.

  1. Degenerative-dystrophic and inflammatory lesions of the spine and surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons.
  2. Compression of the nerve roots of large trunks in the neck during compression exposure to deformed vertebrae or muscle fiber spasm.
  3. Pathologies of the vessels of the brain and neck, which lead to a decrease in blood flow.
  4. Dermatological diseases of an infectious and non-infectious nature.
  5. Tumor-like growths in the region of the brain and facial part of the skull.
  6. Injuries from which the occipital region is damaged.
  7. Infectious pathologies that develop in the lining of the brain (meningitis), sinuses (sinusitis) and other infections.
  8. Chronic diseases of the internal organs.
  9. Intense pain due to severe stressful situations or psycho-emotional overstrain.
  10. Prolonged exposure to cold temperature.
  11. Intoxication of the body after poisoning with toxic substances.
  12. Fatigue after intense physical exertion or prolonged stress in a certain static position.

This list lists the main groups of probable causes of headache in the back of the head. In each case, the pain will vary in characteristics under the influence of the symptoms characteristic of the underlying disease.

Characterization of pain

Based on knowledge of the dependence of the type and course of soreness in a particular disease, we can assume a pathology, as a result of which an unpleasant state appears. Pain can be a kind of indicator when making a basic diagnosis. All pathologies can be divided into several groups depending on the cause and location of the lesion.

Pathologies of the tissues of the occipital region

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A headache in the back of the head with a neurogenic character is unusual in manifestation: burning and tingling are accompanied by a violation of sensitivity in the affected area. A piercing pain in the affected area occurs even from a light touch.

The development of the syndrome is associated with damage to the nerve roots, the process is most often associated with trauma, infection or congenital disease of the central nervous system.

  • Neuralgia – a one-sided feeling of pain in the nape of the neck appears due to a violation of innervation in the occipital plexus, where all the major nerve trunks of the neck are concentrated. A paroxysmal pain symptom retains its strength and does not change in intensity when turning the head or neck. The cause of the pathological condition can be injuries, infectious processes, destruction of the tissues of the spine, hypothermia, neoplasms (tumors), and strain on the neck muscles.
  • Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of unknown etiology, accompanied by impaired coordination due to uncontrolled muscle contractions and pain in the back of the head. In the process of the development of the disease, an attack of their own immune cells on the spinal cord occurs, during which the myelin sheath of nerve cells is destroyed.

In vascular diseases, the clinical syndrome develops as a result of a lack of blood supply to brain tissue. Changes in the structure of the vascular wall, on which most diseases of large and small vessels are based, do not cause a headache in the back of the head. The reaction occurs with irritation of the anatomical structures, internal organs or the whole organism.

  • Arterial hypertension is the most common disease of the cardiovascular system, characterized by a chronic increase in blood pressure with a decrease in vascular lumen. It may be asymptomatic or manifest as a deterioration in well-being, a headache in the back of the head, and tinnitus. A dangerous complication of hypertension is a hypertensive crisis, in which pressure can rise to critical numbers. In addition, hypertension significantly increases the risk of intracranial hemorrhage.
  • Brain hemangioma is a genetic pathology associated with abnormal development of the blood vessels of the brain. Vascular neoplasms are manifested by persistent pain at the border of the cervical region with the skull. In addition to pain, gait is unsteady, impaired sensitivity and a partial lack of coordination.
  • Atherosclerosis – damage to the blood vessels of the brain, develops in violation of lipid metabolism, as a result of which cholesterol plaques appear on the walls of the vessels, which eventually reduce lumen, which leads to less blood circulation. A decrease in flow causes hypoxia, which causes a headache in the back of the head.
  • Aneurysm of cerebral vessels – a change in the structure of the wall of a large vessel with the formation of pathological expansion. Modification of the vascular bed leads to disruption of blood flow. The disease can occur without external manifestations and be diagnosed by chance. In some cases, an aneurysm is accompanied by pain in the back of the head. When sudden acute pain with a sharp deterioration occurs, there is a risk of a dangerous condition – rupture of the aneurysm with an outpouring of blood inside the cranium. The development of this complication requires immediate medical attention.
  • Venous congestion of blood is a violation of the outflow of venous blood with decay products as a result of life. The pathological process develops against a background of diseases. The condition is accompanied by an increase in intracranial pressure and the appearance of pain in the neck.
  • Vertebro-basilar insufficiency – insufficient blood flow to the brain with weakened blood flow in the vertebral and basilar arteries. One manifestation of a severe syndrome is headache. A characteristic feature of a symptom with this pathology is the nature of the pain reaction: a paroxysmal symptom is replaced by a dull soreness.

A painful condition does not always appear due to pathological changes in the body. The toxic effects of external factors often cause a response from the body.

Usually, the manifestations of the syndrome stop after the negative influence of the pathogen, in rare cases they can cause persistent changes, the treatment of which will require specific treatment.

  • Drug and toxic poisoning lead to pain in the back of the head of varying intensity, depending on the nature of intoxication. Poisoning can occur in two scenarios. A sudden condition when a strong poison or a large amount of toxin enters the body causes instant intoxication with acute pain, impaired functioning of the heart and lungs. With gradual development, a toxic substance enters the body in small doses. Accumulation leads to a toxic effect. At the same time, the head hurts.
  • Heat stroke is the overheating of the body under scorching sunlight or exposure to high temperature. Violation of thermoregulation is manifested by dehydration, decreased sweating, persistent soreness. With prolonged exposure to a heat source, it is possible that collapse develops with subsequent loss of consciousness.

Consequences of injuries

Injuries associated with damage to the head or neck are common. As a result of trauma to the bones of the skull, neck and neck, pain appears in the head. The symptom is accompanied by an additional clinical picture, which depends on the severity and degree of damage. The cause of injuries is a shock, a fall, in case of accidents involving vehicles or non-observance of industrial safety measures.

  • A concussion resulting from a blow to the head causes intense pain in the face of nausea and vomiting. Concussion leads to an increase in intracranial pressure, followed by infringement of the nerve roots.
  • Subluxation of the vertebrae – occurs when there is a violation of the physiological alignment of the segments of the spine without disturbing the structure of the ligamentous apparatus of the spine. The victim has a sharp pain with impaired movement function.
  • Violation of the anatomical integrity of the muscles or tendons leads to local pain in the area of ​​damage. Clinic of injury includes swelling, the appearance of bruises or open wounds.
  • Cerebral hemorrhage – complete damage to blood vessels during trauma. Blood enters the brain tissue, causing a painful effect with the development of stiff neck muscles. Severe trauma leads to irritation of the meninges and numerous nerve endings.

Diseases with localization in the bone tissue of the head lead to chronic pain in the back of the head. The cause of the disease can be congenital in violation of intrauterine development, a genetic predisposition or acquired in violation of metabolic processes and autoimmune conditions.

  • Tumor-like growths – uncontrolled cell division of a benign or malignant nature, forming neoplasms of various sizes. At the initial stage, it does not cause a symptom, with critical growth it negatively affects the centers of the brain located in the neighborhood, leading to visual, auditory and coordination disorders. The terminal stages threaten pain in the back of the head, which is stopped by narcotic analgesics.
  • Periostitis – the periosteum suffers as a result of exposure to an infectious agent. The inflammatory process causes a response in the form of intense pain, chills, followed by the development of fever, flushing of the skin over the inflamed area.

Pain in the back of the head is one of the common manifestations of pathologies of the infectious factor progressing in the brain tissues. Dangerous diseases pose a threat to life, therefore treatment should be carried out immediately under the strict supervision of a physician.

  • Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges. The terrible state is accompanied by an initial pain reaction in the frontal bones, gradually passing to the posterior region of the head. The clinic of infection is represented by fever and specific meningeal symptoms.
  • Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain of a polyetiological nature of origin, accompanied by a throbbing headache in the back of the head, drowsiness, fear of light rays, nausea, neurological seizures such as epilepsy, loss of consciousness.

Stressful situations are an integral factor in modern life. Increasing soreness with irritability appears instantly without pathological causes from organs and systems. Pain in the back of the head of a psychogenic nature can become chronic in people prone to experience. Soreness of this nature passes after a full sleep, in severe conditions, a consultation with a psychologist will be required.

Malocclusion of bite

The incorrect position of the upper and lower teeth during their closure, in addition to external manifestations, leads to characteristic painful reactions. Pain of a dull nature appears simultaneously in the back of the head and the parietal part of the head. The symptom intensifies in the evening against the background of a loud clicking sound in the joint that connects the lower jaw to the temporal region.


An important step on the path to getting rid of a headache in the back of the head is rightly considered to be diagnostic measures. The exact success of treatment depends on the exact determination of the cause of the painful reaction. Conducting differential diagnosis requires an objective study by various methods, as well as obtaining advice from specialists of narrow specializations, depending on the nature of the pain.

Chronic occipital pains, which increase in intensity when bending or turning the head, can be complicated by darkening in the eyes during bending, dizziness and loss of coordination are examined using radiography, MRI, and encephalography. In addition to instrumental examination, it is necessary to assess the condition of all organs and systems. For this, a blood test is prescribed, as well as a laboratory test for serological protein.

If stiffness and muscle tension have formed in the neck, electromyography and arteriography are additionally prescribed. With bursting or jerking manifestation of the syndrome, a detailed urine test, dopplerography and monitoring of blood pressure measurements are performed. Depending on the accompanying symptoms, a neurologist, cardiologist, traumatologist, dentist, ophthalmologist or otolaryngologist is prescribed a consultation.


Headache in the back of the head is treated comprehensively. When choosing effective methods, the diagnosis is taken into account after a full examination. Sometimes it is not enough to drink an anesthetic pill, which will help get rid of the painful reaction for several hours. To prevent relapse, first of all, therapy is carried out to eliminate the cause of the pain syndrome.

Drug treatment is a traditional method of stopping an unpleasant sensation. Medicines that relieve pain attacks are prescribed by the doctor, depending on the etiology of the symptoms.

Pharmacological groups to eliminate a headache in the occipital region:

  • non-narcotic analgesics (Tempalgin, Baralgin, Pentalgin);
  • narcotic drugs (Tramadol, Promedol);
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ketanov, Next, Nurofen).

Physiotherapeutic procedures (treatment with laser beams, a magnetic field, ultrasound, electrophoresis) are prescribed for degenerative processes in the tissues, in case of circulatory disorders and increased intracranial pressure.


Massage is recommended for many diseases. The correct massage technique improves blood circulation, triggering metabolic processes, and also stimulates the work of muscle mass. Sessions are carried out by the course, after the procedure, to preserve the therapeutic effect, a neck bandage (Shants collar) is put on for a couple of hours.

For any pain in the back of the head, self-massage is recommended, which can be taught by an exercise therapy instructor. Head massage begins with the ear region. With warm hands, before the main massage, the auricles are massaged with rubbing movements. Further, without taking his palms from his ears, the entire surface of the head is massaged with light twisting movements. Such a massage will help alleviate the condition and will not bring harm.

Therapeutic exercises

Positions that will help relieve a headache in the back of the head:

  • Take a sitting position, straighten your back, relax your shoulders. Tilt your head forward, relax and stay in that position for another 15 seconds. Then straighten your head and repeat the movement up to ten times.
  • For the next exercise, stay in the same position. Raise your hands up, placing your thumb at the point of protrusion of the cheekbones, and put the rest on the occipital region. Perform a tilt back, overcoming the resistance that you need to prov >

Traditional recipes

Many years of experience and knowledge of healers from the people helps to relieve mild soreness, without resorting to synthetic means. Available herbal products are not always safe. In addition to allergic reactions, they can lead to an increase in blood pressure and other negative effects. Therefore, before experiencing the effect of medicinal plants, the approval of the attending doctor is necessary.

  • Potato juice is prepared immediately before use. For treatment, you need to drink half a glass three times a day before meals. If within five days there is no positive effect, further use is considered meaningless.
  • For a decoction of St. John’s wort, you need one tablespoon of dry raw materials and a half glass of water. The mixture is put on fire and continues to hold after boiling for another seven minutes, after which the solution is allowed to cool and taken 100 ml before meals.
  • Elderberry infusion, to remove pain in the back of the head, is prepared by insisting 30 grams of flowers in a glass of boiling water. The container is placed in a dark place for three hours. Infusion is drunk daily in one tablespoon.
  • Viburnum bark (2 tablespoons) is poured with water (500 ml) and simmered over low heat for half an hour. After which the broth is left for twenty minutes on the stove. To normalize vascular tone, the drug is drunk in 30 ml in the morning, at lunch and in the evening.
  • Leaves coltsfoot (30 grams) pour water, brought to a boil. Leave the mixture for thirty minutes, then strain and drink 15 ml up to five times a day.


To live and not feel pain in the back of the head, it is enough to follow simple recommendations. With the appearance of mild soreness, you need to carefully consider your health: dress in accordance with weather conditions, lead an active lifestyle, do morning exercises. If chronic diseases are the cause of pain attacks, tighten control over blood pressure for hypertension or blood glucose for diabetes.

Try not to be nervous and prevent the development of stress. To prevent a headache in the back of the head after a long stay in a sitting position while doing painstaking work, you need to take a rest for fifteen minutes to stretch a little. For a good night’s rest, use an orthopedic pillow to prevent blood stasis. In case of often recurring pain, make an appointment with a doctor to determine the cause and effective treatment of pain.

Shishkevich Vladimir, orthopedic and traumatologistShishkevich Vladimir, orthopedic and traumatologist, project editor-in-chief ExpertNews.

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