Pain in Back of Head: 10 Causes You Need to Understand

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Pain at Back of HeadFrom time to time, we all suffer from some type of headache or pain in the head region. While it is usually treated with rest, nutrition, or over-the-counter pain medication, there are situations that call for medical treatment.

It is important to know the underlying cause of any pain in the back of the head as there are many serious health conditions with such a symptom.

Your doctor may order specific tests such as blood work and X-rays to determine the cause.

10 Causes You Need to Understand

1. Cervicogenic headache is a pain experienced by all age groups but is most commonly found in older people as it is caused by posture and neck injuries to the neck joints. The pain can be pinpointed to one side of the head and radiate to the forehead.

2. Vertebral artery dissection is very similar to the common cervicogenic headache yet is distinguished by its quick and very painful onset. The typical sufferer is a young person with a recent neck or head injury. The condition has also been linked to strokes in patients less than 45 years of age.

3. Infectious meningitis gives pain from damaged nerves caused by the infection. While pain in back of head and a stiff neck are a result, a high fever significantly signals the infection.

4. Subarachnoid hemorrhage is present in nearly 10% of severe pain of back of head patients who also complain of confusion, nausea, stiff neck and vision difficulties. It is caused by bleeding in and around the brain and is often described as the most painful condition.

5. Parkinson’s Disease patients are known to experience pain in back of head. In fact, around one-third of those living with the condition report pain in the head and neck, according to New Health Guide.

6. Hyperthyroidism, or thyrotoxicosis, has pain in back of head as a common symptom. It is also known as Grave’s disease.

7. Trapped nerves are often associated with the onset of pain in back of head due to nerve damage by a compression.

8. Sleep apnea is a serious condition as you have numerous shallow breaths or short stop-breathing episodes while you sleep. Aside from fatigue, pain in back of head is a major complaint of those with sleep apnea.

9. Intracranial hypertension results in pain in back of head as the cerebrospinal fluid level increases the pressure on the brain.

10. Occipital Neuralgia results in severe pain in back of head as the affected nerves are located in the neck and head areas.When inflamed or damaged, these nerves send pain on one side of your head to the top and to the back of the eye. We will take a closer look at this disorder which has similar symptoms as the common headache or migraine.

Occipital Neuralgia


This disorder is very closely related to the cervicogenic headache in that both can be caused by pain of the nerve roots in the neck and head regions.

They also tend to run on one side of the head. However, the cervicogenic headache is usually described as a dull or throbbing pain, whereas the occipital neuralgia pain is noted as a sharp, stabbing pain.

It is also associated with light sensitivity, pain behind the eye, tender scalp, and pain when neck is turned side-to-side.

Causes of occipital neuralgia can be irritation, inflammation, pressure of the nerves stemming from injury, or disease.

There is not always a specific cause determined, but it can be associated with trauma to the head, tension in the neck, infection, osteoarthritis, cervical disc disease, diabetes, and gout.

Diagnosis is based on your medical history, an exam of the back of head, and possibly a nerve blocker shot to isolate the issues. Your doctor may also order blood tests and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Once you have a diagnosis, you can try basic at-home remedies to settle your pain such as rest, applying heat and massage to the neck, as well as taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs.

Other treatments by your doctor may include prescribed muscle relaxers, nerve block shots, antidepressants, or anti-seizure medication. Further treatment may include surgery.

Brain Tumors

brain tumor

One serious condition that we must address is brain tumors. Although many people believe a persisting or reoccurrence of headaches can suggest a brain tumor, it is important to be aware that pain in back of head is not a common symptom as only 25% of patients experience this type of symptom.

Headaches stemming from pain in back of head are not caused by the brain’s tissue or the skull alone as they do not have nerves that register pain.

The pain can come directly from blood vessels, tissue, and nerves that are present in the brain. Pain can also start in the sinuses, teeth, scalp, muscles, and joints and affect the back of the head.

Internal and environment causes of pain in back of head include high-altitude situations, a low-pressure atmosphere, coughs, and blocked arteries such as with heart attack patients.

Pain in the back of the head can be a symptom alone due to trauma or a symptom of something more serious.

Any lasting pain should be checked out by a physician who can determine the correct treatment before it leads to damaging health problems.

Be sure to make notes on where the pain starts, how long it lasts, and the intensity of the pain for proper treatment.

Pain to seek medical attention for includes increase in severity, change in pattern or timing of pain, sudden numbness accompanied by seizures, fever, confusion; or vision troubles.

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