Head pain or headaches range in severity, and they range from being annoying to disruptive. Likewise, they can occur in any area of the head.
Head pain involving aches at the back of the head may be due to several various causes. The causes of headaches are identified with some additional symptoms like the kind of pain experienced or the specific location of the pain felt by the patient.
Causes of Head Pain
Several different causes lead to head pain in different areas of the head. In most cases, head pain is also felt in other areas other than the head, and specific conditions can trigger them.
The kind of pain felt location, and the symptoms experienced are crucial for doctors to determine and diagnose what’s causing the headache and its treatments. Here are some common causes of pain in the neck and back of the head.
Arthritis Head Pain - headaches due to arthritis is caused by swelling and inflammation in the neck area. Usually, the pain is felt in the back of the head and neck area. Moving around will trigger intense pain for those who suffer from this type of condition. This kind of headache may be due to different types of arthritis, but the most common ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Poor Posture - having poor posture can also be one of the causes of pain in the neck and back of the head. Improper positioning develops tension in the back, shoulders, and neck. It leads to a dull, throbbing pain at the base of the skull and into an intense headache.
Herniated Disks - problems in your disk or a herniated disk in the cervical spine can also cause tension and neck pain. The kind of headache that is due to this condition is called the cervicogenic head pain. The pain usually starts and is felt primarily in the back of the head. In some cases, it is felt behind the eyes or at the temples. Others may also feel discomfort in the upper arms and shoulders.
Cervicogenic head pain due to herniated disks becomes more intense when you are lying down. It can disrupt sleep and wake people because of the pain. Likewise, you can also feel pressure at the top of the head.
Occipital Neuralgia - this condition happens when the nerves running from the spinal cord to the scalp becomes damaged. Often, this condition is confused with migraines. This type of head pain causes an aching, sharp, and throbbing pain that begins at the base of the head and goes towards the scalp. Other symptoms of this type of head pain include the following:
- Sharp stabbing pain that feels like an electric shock in the neck and back of the head
- Sensitivity to light
- Pain behind the eyes
- Pain when moving the neck
- Tender scalp
Causes of Pain in the Right Side of the Head
Tension Head Pain - this is the most common cause of head pain. It occurs at the back and on the right side of the head. This may also include tightness in the scalp or neck and feels like a tight, dull, and constricting pain that does not throb.
Causes of Pain in the Left and Back of the Head
Migraine - this type of head pain can occur in any area of the head, but most people feel pain on the left side or at the backside of the head during a migraine attack. Migraines can cause these symptoms:
- Light and sound sensitivity
- Watery eyes
- Severe, pulsating and throbbing pain
Headaches due to migraines may start on the left side of the head, but it can move onto the temples and the back of the head.
Causes of Pain in the Back of the Head
Cluster head pain - this type of headache is uncommon, but it can be severely painful. They occur in cluster periods, and people who experience them have frequent attacks in periods or patterns that may last for a few weeks or months.
It can cause pain in the back of the head or on both sides. The pain can worsen when you lie down. Other symptoms may also accompany it, like:
- Sharp, burning and penetrating pain
- Stuffy nose
- Excessive tearing
- Sensitivity to sounds or light
- Drooping eyelids
Diagnosis and Treatment
Doctors diagnose the type of head pain you have through a description of the condition, the timing, pattern of pain attacks, and the kind of pain experienced. If the situation seemed complex, some tests would be performed to rule out severe cases.
Testing can include the following:
- Brain Scans like MRI and CT Scan
- Blood Tests
In most cases, head pain is not taken seriously because they are not contagious, they happen sporadically, and they do not lead to death.
Head pain symptoms can be relieved with over-the-counter pain medicines such as Acetaminophen. People with chronic headaches can take extra-strength Tylenol. Medications for headache is most effective if it is based on the root cause of the pain.
Treatment for Arthritis Headache
Head pain due to arthritis is best treated with anti-inflammatory medications that reduce inflammation.
Treatment for Head Pain Due to Poor Posture
Head pain due to poor posture can be instantly relieved with acetaminophen. On the other hand, pain is best treated or prevented by improving one’s posture. Ideally, you can buy an ergonomic chair with better lumbar support for your work. Likewise, make sure to sit with both feet on the ground.
Treatment for Head Pain Due to Herniated Disks
For head pain that is due to herniated disks, relief will rely on the treatment of the underlying condition. With herniated disks, patients need to undergo chiropractic manipulation, physical therapy, epidural injection for inflammation, and gentle stretching. Surgery may be recommended in severe cases.
Treatment for Head Pain Due to Occipital Neuralgia
For this condition, the underlying condition may be treated with the combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, warm/heat therapy, massage, physical therapy, and prescription muscle relaxants. For severe cases, local anesthetics may also be injected by a doctor into the area for immediate pain relief.
Treatment of Tension Head Pain
Over-the-counter pain medications are typically used to relieve headaches due to tension. Doctors usually give prescription medications for chronic and severe tension head pain. In some cases, doctors also prescribed preventative medications like muscle relaxants and antidepressants to lessen the risk of tension headaches in the future.
Treatment of Migraine Head Pain
Doctors may prescribe a preventative medication such as a beta-blocker and medication for immediate pain-relief for migraine sufferers. There are also over-the-counter medicines that are made specifically for migraine pain relief like Excedrin Migraine. OTC medications may work for mild cases, but it may not be enough for severe cases. Doctors may also help you find out your migraine triggers so that you can avoid them in the future.
Treatment for Cluster Head Pain
Treatment for this condition is focused on shortening the period of cluster headache, reducing its severity and preventing attacks from happening.
What are the Normal Conditions?
Head pain is very normal, and about 90 percent of the whole population has experienced one or two types of this condition in their lifetime. While there are medications that can relieve your discomfort, there are also simple ways to keep headaches from disrupting your day. These include:
- Small, frequent meals
- Taking a hot shower
- Getting a massage
- Avoid alcohol
- Drinking more water
- Keep stress level low
- Regular exercise
- Take computer breaks
- Watch out for food triggers
Risks of Head Pain
Risk factors for having head pain raises the chances of sufferers of getting them. You can have head pain with or without any of the risk factors, but in case you have one or more of these, have higher chances of getting a headache.
For tension head pain, people who are always tired, angry, or stressed out have higher risks of getting this condition. Other risks include lack of sleep or exercise, smoking, and various health problems such as anxiety, depression, and sleep apnea.
For migraine sufferers, the triggers differ from one person to the next. Some risks include stressful events, too much alcohol, skipping meals, lack or excess sleep, smoking, loud noises.
Likewise, some foods like chocolates, fruits, and nuts, caffeine, or caffeine-withdrawal can trigger a migraine. More so, other risks of migraine triggers include medications like birth control pills, age, gender, and genetics. In some cases, migraines may also be caused by menstruation, strong lights, tiredness, and changes in weather.
Cluster head pain is more often experienced by people who smoke, people who had head injuries or surgeries, men and people age 20-50 years old.
When to Seek Medical Attention?
Although head pain is common and not life-threatening, make an appointment with your doctor if you experience the following signs:
- Head pain that lasts for more than a few days
- Head pain that interferes with your daily activities
- Pain with tenderness in the temples
- Changes in head pain patterns
Schedule an immediate appointment with your doctor if you develop head pain that is worse than your previous episode or if it is progressing to worse. More so, if the pain becomes impossible to think through, seek immediate medical attention.
Some symptoms that indicate an emergency for head pain sufferers include the following:
- Personality changes, agitation and uncharacteristic mood swing
- Visual disturbance, weakness, slurred speech, numbness anywhere in the body and face
- Stiff neck decreased alertness, confusion and struggling to focus on conversation
- Severe head pain after a blow to the head
- Pain that comes on extremely abruptly, especially when it disturbs your sleep or wake you up.
For most people, occasional head pain is just a speed bump on a regular day. It is relieved with pain medications, simple lifestyle measures, and some relaxation techniques. However, some experience chronic head pain that can be a big problem. Learn to recognize the signs that call for immediate medical care. Avoid overusing medications and work with your doctor to find a treatment plan that deals with the root cause of your head pain.