Pain at the back of your head can happen for different reasons. Some headaches just come by themselves, while others show up because of an illness or problem. Sometimes, a problem with the nerves can also make your head hurt at the back.

One big reason for this kind of pain is tension headaches. They are very common. But there are other things that can make the back of your head hurt. It could be because of arthritis, injuries in your neck, or when nerves get pressed. Even medical treatments might be a cause.

This article talks about some common reasons for this kind of pain, and when you should go see a doctor about it.

Pain in the Back of My Head

What Causes Pain in the Back of My Head?

Pain in the back of your head can arise from a range of factors, each with its own set of symptoms and triggers. Identifying the root cause is crucial for proper management and treatment. Let’s explore some common culprits:

Tension Headache

The most common type of primary headache is called a tension headache. It makes up almost 90% of all headaches. [1]

Tension headaches feel like a tight grip of pain at the lower back of your head, and it can spread to your neck and eyes. These headaches usually aren’t too strong and happen on both sides of your head.

Some other things you might feel with tension headaches are:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sounds
  • Stiffness in your shoulders and upper back
  • Trouble paying attention or focusing

Tension headaches seem to happen when the muscles in your neck and scalp suddenly get tight. Stress, feeling down or anxious, and hitting your head are some things that might trigger these headaches. Bad posture, where you don’t sit or stand straight, can also make your upper back, neck, and shoulders tense up and give you a tension headache.

Low-Pressure Headache

A low-pressure headache happens when fluid from your brain and spine starts to leak out. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid, and it leaks through a tear in a protective layer around your brain and spine. [2]

This tear can happen after a doctor takes out some of the fluid from your spine (like a spinal tap) or when you get medicine through your back (like an epidural).

Because of the leak, the pressure in your head goes down quickly, and this causes a strong headache at the back of your head on both sides.

Some other things you might feel with a low-pressure headache are:

  • Your neck feels stiff
  • Your ears might ring
  • You could feel dizzy
  • Your vision might get blurry or you might see double

This headache gets worse when you’re sitting or standing, and it hurts even more when you cough, sneeze, or do exercise. But if you lie down flat, the headache usually gets better in about 20 to 30 minutes.

Cervicogenic Headache

Cervicogenic headaches happen when there’s a problem with the bones, nerves, or soft tissues in the upper part of your back and neck, called the cervical spine. This kind of headache is not the main problem – it’s actually caused by something else going on in your neck, like arthritis, a pinched nerve, or an injury. [3]

These headaches give you pain on just one side of your head. It starts in your neck and moves to the front of your head. The pain can be medium to really strong, and it doesn’t throb like some other headaches. It gets worse when you move your head or neck.

Some other things you might feel with this headache are:

  • Your neck feels stiff
  • You can’t turn your neck all the way
  • Your arm or shoulder on the same side as the headache might ache a bit

So, it’s like your neck is causing the headache in a way.

Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is when you feel a strong pain like shooting or stabbing in parts of your skin on your head. This pain is because of your nerves, specifically the greater or lesser occipital nerves. These nerves start in your neck and go up the sides of your head to your scalp. [4]

This kind of pain might happen because of different things like a nerve getting trapped or pinched, muscles being too tense, infection, problems with discs in your spine, or even from an injury like whiplash.

The pain from occipital neuralgia is really strong and sudden. It starts in your neck and goes up to the top of your head. It’s usually only on one side of your head.

Some other things you might feel with this kind of pain are:

  • Changes in how you see things
  • Pain in your eyes
  • Ringing in your ears
  • A stuffy nose
  • Your skin feels numb or tingly on the same side as the pain

Exertion Headache

Exertion headaches are headaches that happen when you’re exercising or right after. They’re a type of headache that starts inside your head, and it’s because your blood vessels get bigger quickly to send more blood up there. This makes the pressure inside your skull go up. [5]

These headaches can stick around for a little bit – maybe minutes, hours, or even days. They often affect guys around 40 who do really hard exercises. The pain is usually on both sides of your head and feels like a throbbing or pulsing.

Some other things you might feel with these headaches are:

  • Spots where you can’t see well
  • You’re bothered by light
  • You feel like you might throw up

Exertion headaches happen because your veins don’t work quite right, so blood can’t flow back to your heart as it should. One common reason for this is a problem with a valve in your heart, and this might not be noticed at first.

So, if you keep having these headaches when you exercise, it could be a sign that you need to see a heart doctor.

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are a strong kind of headache that keeps coming back. They happen on just one side of your head, usually near your eyes or temples. These headaches show up all of a sudden, without any warning signs like changes in what you see. [6]

People often say that cluster headaches hurt more than migraines. The pain can feel like burning, stabbing, drilling, or squeezing.

These headaches get their name because they come in groups, or “clusters.” You might get them every other day, or even many times a day – up to eight times. Each time, the headache can last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours.

Some other things you might feel with these headaches are:

  • Your nose might run
  • Your eyes could tear up
  • Your face might turn red
  • Your eyelid might droop on the same side as the pain
  • The pupil (the dark part in the middle of your eye) might be smaller on the same side as the pain
  • The eye on the same side as the pain could turn red
  • You might sweat

We don’t really know why cluster headaches happen. Some experts think it might be because blood vessels suddenly get bigger and press on a nerve in your face. Your genes (what you inherit from your parents) and smoking might play a part too.

When Should You See a Doctor

Usually, headaches are not something to worry too much about. But there are times when it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor:

  1. Frequent or Strong Headaches: If you keep getting headaches a lot, they’re really strong, or they stop you from doing your usual stuff.
  2. New Bad Headache: If you’re over 50 years old, pregnant, or have a weaker immune system, and you suddenly get a really bad headache.
  3. Headache Triggers: If a headache comes when you sneeze, cough, or exercise.
  4. Using Pain Meds a Lot: If you need to take pain medicine all the time to make your headache feel better.

If any of these things happen, it’s a good time to see a doctor. They can help figure out what’s going on and how to make you feel better.

In Short

Headaches at the back of your head can happen for different reasons like tension headaches, low-pressure headaches, cervicogenic headaches, occipital neuralgia, exertion headaches, or cluster headaches.

Some of these headaches start at the back of your head, while others might begin in other parts of your head or neck. How the pain feels, where it is, how bad it is, and how long it lasts can help tell why it’s happening.


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