Headaches in the back of the head can have a number of different causes; it may only be due to a minor injury or it can be a secondary symptom of other problems in the body. The type and location of the pain can play a crucial role in diagnosing the cause of headaches. Severe and recurrent headaches always require medical attention from a doctor.
Pain originating in any region of the face, head, or neck is called headache. This pain can be dull or severe and localized to the face, skull, or neck. Headache may sometimes be associated with nausea, vomiting or dizziness.
What headaches occur at the back of the head?
There are a number of different causes that can lead to headaches occurring at the back of the head. Below are a few types of these headaches:
- Tension headaches are the most common cause of pain in the back of the head. They can last for 30 minutes to seven days.
- Severe stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, skipping meals, poor body posture, or not drinking enough water may cause tension headaches.
- Patients usually feel tightening around the back or front of the head; pain may range from dull to severe.
- Treatment includes painkillers, lifestyle modifications, massage, and sometimes relaxing techniques (e.g., meditation). However, frequent tension headaches need a doctor’s supervision for further treatment.
- Migraine is a common type of recurring headache that often starts during childhood and increases in frequency with age.
- Migraine is most commonly seen in females.
- Symptoms include severe pain on one side of the head with nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbance. Patients are usually sensitive to light, noise, or smell. Physical activity can make the pain worse. Pain may last for a few hours to several days.
- Causes usually include emotional or physical stress, environmental, and dietary changes. Sometimes medications (e.g., contraceptive pills) can induce a migraine headache.
- Treatment of migraine includes painkillers and resting in a darkened room. Lifestyle modifications, hormonal therapy, and anti-migraine drugs such as triptans are usually recommended by doctors to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines.
Medication overuse or rebound headache
- Medication overuse headaches (MOH) may develop if a person uses too many painkillers.
- Symptoms include persistent headaches with severe pain. Usually, headaches restart after stopping pain killers. Other symptoms include nausea, anxiety, irritability, tiredness, restlessness, concentrating difficulty, memory loss, and sometimes even depression.
- The best treatment is often to stop taking pain relief medication entirely. Headaches become worse at first but will quickly resolve. In more severe cases, people should see a doctor. An individual may need physical or behavioral therapy to break the habit of using pain relief medication.
- Occipital neuralgia is a rare but severe headache that tends to begin at the base of the neck and spreads up to the back of the head, then behind the ears.
- Usually occurs when there is damage or irritation of the occipital nerves, which run up the back of the neck to the base of the scalp.
- Underlying diseases, neck tension, or other unknown factors might cause nerve damage or irritation.
- Pain is usually severe with burning or shooting sensation; the pain remains on one side of the head but often worsens with neck movement. The patient would usually be sensitive to light.
- Possible causes include damage to the spine, tumors, nerve damage caused by diabetes, swelling of blood vessels, and rarely infection.
- Treatment options include applying heat packs, resting, massage, physical therapy, and taking painkillers, which can reduce swelling. Severe pain may require medications, such as oral muscle relaxants, nerve block injections, steroid injections, or local anesthesia. On rare occasions, surgery may be necessary to reduce pressure on the nerves or block pain impulses to this part of the body.
- Exercise-induced headaches occur as a result of stressed physical activity. Pain may start immediately after exercise.
- Symptoms include a heartbeat-like pain on both sides of the head, which can last from five minutes to two days. These headaches are usually isolated events and may also produce migraine-like symptoms.
- Causes include weightlifting, running, and sometimes sexual intercourse, or straining on the toilet.
- Treatment includes taking painkillers before exercise, avoiding stressful activities, eating and drinking healthy foods, and getting sufficient sleep.
What are the different types of headaches?
The International Headache Society categorizes more than 150 types of headaches, and based on it headaches are classified into three main categories which include:
- Primary headaches: Headache with no clear underlying cause is called primary headache. It may be due to overactivity or strain. Primary headaches might not be life-threatening, but may affect the quality of life. Below are few common types of primary headache:
- Tension headaches: These occur when the muscles of the face or the scalp become tense. This may be due to physical or mental stress.
- Migraine headaches: Migraine pain is moderate to severe and can last from four hours to three days. Multiple factors cause migraines, and they may have a hormonal origin. Migraine symptoms include sensitivity to light, noise or smell.
- Cluster headaches: This type of headache is rare but is the most severe type of primary headache. The pain is severe, throbbing and mostly localized to behind the eye. It may be accompanied by watery eyes and sensitivity to light.
Headaches due to underlying medical condition are called secondary headaches. This includes infection, severe injury, tumors, bleeding in the brain and sometimes, even life-threatening causes. Below are few common types of secondary headache:
- Sinus headaches: The sinus headaches are associated with infection of the sinuses. This pain is associated with a deep and constant throbbing in cheekbones, forehead or bridge of your nose. The pain usually gets worse with sudden head movement or straining.
- Medication overuse headaches: These occur due to overuse over-the-counter painkillers This is among the most common type of severe headache seen in hospitals and is also called “transformed” headache. It is believed that 4% of the population worldwide has chronic daily headaches of some type — a significant subset of which are due to medication overuse.
Any other headaches, facial pain and pain involving the 12 cranial nerves (nerves supplying from brain to other parts of body) are classified in this group.
What triggers headaches?
Triggers for the headache include:
- Physical stress
- Emotional stress
- Alcohol use
- Skipping meals
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Excessive medication use
How to get rid of headaches
Headaches can be usually treated at home; however secondary headaches and severe headaches should be evaluated by medical professionals to rule out underlying medical causes. Below are a few common ways to get rid of headaches.
- Get maximum rest
- Drink sufficient water and stay hydrated
- Head massage
- Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen can relieve the symptoms
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