Headaches at the Base of the Skull: Causes and Treatments

Headaches at the base of the skull, also known as occipital headaches or occipital neuralgia, are a type of headache that specifically affects the back of the head and the upper neck region. These headaches are characterized by a throbbing or piercing pain that radiates from the base of the skull and may extend to the scalp, temples, or behind the eyes. The pain is usually intense and debilitating, impacting daily activities and overall quality of life. This article will discuss common causes of Headaches at the base of the skull with treatment.

Causes of Headache at Base of Skull
Causes of Headache at the Base of the Skull

Common Causes of Headache at the Base of the Skull

1. Neck Arthritis

Neck arthritis, also known as cervical spondylosis, is the most common cause of a headache at the skull base. A survey shows more than 85% of older adults suffer from cervical spondylosis.

As you age, the discs and joints in your neck will slowly degenerate. This will cause inflammation of the elastic joint tissues and lead to neck pain and stiffness.

The pain is usually worse when you read a book in the same position for a long time. The pain usually improves if you can rest or lie down for a while.

In addition to headaches, you may also suffer from muscle spasms and grinding noise when you turn your neck. In some cases, cervical spondylosis may reduce the nerve space and lead to numbness in the arms, hands, and fingers. You may even have difficulty walking.

In most cases, cervical spondylosis can be relieved by medication and physical therapy. Physical therapy, such as exercises, can help relieve pain and strengthen weak muscles. In addition, applying ice, heat, or massage can also help relieve symptoms.

Some drugs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and cyclobenzaprine, can help relieve neck pain and swelling. Surgery is not recommended for cervical spondylosis unless a doctor determines it.

2. Upper neck injury or trauma

An injury such as a car accident or a fall can damage the nerves, joints, or muscles in the back of your head. This will cause pain at the base of the skull and neck.

The pain may also radiate to your arm, back, or shoulder blade. Moving your neck or head may also suffer in a stiff neck and constant severe headaches.

A more severe injury may cause a ruptured disk or fracture of your spinal vertebrae and lead to sharp pain around your neck. In addition, Injury or trauma can also cause arthritis later.

3. Slipped Disc

The intervertebral disc is the spine’s disc, elastic tissue between the vertebrae. It is a protective shock-absorbing pad that can cushion the bones while exercising to prevent friction.

If the disc is displaced, the inner gel of the disc will go into the surrounding tissue and compress the nerve.

This will cause numbness, weakness, or pain radiating to the skull’s base. Many methods can alleviate disc herniation, and most patients with herniated discs do not require surgery.

4. Sleeping Position

You already know this, especially after waking up in the morning, and you realize that many places in your body hurt. When your sleeping position is not too comfortable, you can expect to ache in different areas. One of the places that may hurt is at the base of your skull.

If you want to reduce the chances of getting a stiff neck, ensure your neck is properly elevated. Otherwise, this may hurt your neck, head, and your back. If you continue with your usual sleeping position, you can expect that the pain will turn chronic.

5. Excessive Muscle Tension

Sometimes you may stay in front of your computer all day, and you may feel that your shoulders and neck will start to hurt.

Tension headaches are usually caused by excessive neck, upper shoulders, or scalp muscle tension. The poor posture and sustained stress will cause pressure, tightness, or dull pain at the back of the head and neck.

This pain is also called a stress headache because it often feels like something is squeezing the skull. Episodic tension headaches usually last from some minutes to several days. And chronic tension headaches may last a longer period.

In addition to poor posture, tension headaches can come from lack of rest, anxiety, fatigue, tight jaws, depression, dehydration, muscle weakness, or mental stress.

You must pay attention to your posture to reduce the possibility of getting this condition. Try to stretch and move around When you have a chance to rest. If the pain lasts longer, you need to see a doctor. Your doctor may recommend painkillers or muscle relaxants to relieve tension headaches.

Read: How to Treat a Pulled Muscle in Shoulder at Home

6. Osteoporosis

When your bones begin to deteriorate, there are times probably because of the lack of calcium and other nutrition you are getting from your food.

This is one condition that is more common in the elderly rather than in young people. Usually, those who are over 50 become afflicted with this condition more.

When the bones become weak and brittle, this can become a problem. This can affect the base of the skull and can cause headaches.

7. Tumors

When you feel pain or a headache in the cervical spine region, it may be caused by a base of skull tumors. The tumors that can be found here are usually not malignant.

As they grow, they compress the nerves around the neck and cause headaches. Do not ignore the tumors at the skull base; you need to see your doctor as soon as possible.

8. Long Hours of Sitting

Some people spend a lot of time in front of their computers. Some do not need to work anymore and do nothing but stay in front of their television sets.

They do not want to exercise or move around anymore. The sedentary lifestyle that they have may affect their body. The strain that will be placed on the base of the skull and the neck will be evident.

Usually, those with this lifestyle would experience headaches at the skull base more often than those with a healthier and more active lifestyle.

9.Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia, also known as the occipital nerve, is a common cause of pain at the skull base. This is a condition of the inflammation or Injury of the spinal cord and scalp nerves.

It will cause pain in the back of your head. This pain is usually sharp, like an electric shock at the base of the head and neck.

You may also feel pain in the eyes or throbbing pain that radiate to the scalp. Other symptoms include pain behind the eye, sensitivity to light, a tender scalp, and pain when you move your head.

You can gently apply heat to your neck or massage the painful neck muscles to relieve your pain from occipital neuralgia. If this doesn’t work, you need to see a doctor. The doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants, nerve blocks, or steroid pills to eliminate this problem.

10. Pinched nerve

A pinched nerve can cause uncomfortable feelings such as pain, tingling, or numbness at the skull base. This pain can sometimes radiate into your arms, shoulders, or back.

A pinched nerve usually occurs when the nerves are placed under excessive pressure. This will irritate or damage the surrounding nerve. Back pain or a neck injury is also related to the pinched nerve.

11. A stiff neck

A stiff neck is difficult or painful to move your neck. This condition can be caused by stiff muscles, damaged nerves, or vertebrae.

According to Neurologist Dr. Cordia Wan, a stiff neck and a severe headache could also be a symptom of meningitis. You may also suffer fever, tingling, fatigue, or a rash. This is an emergency disease; you should see your doctor immediately.

12. Meningitis

This condition is the inflammation of the meninges around your brain and spinal cord. A viral infection usually causes it, but bacterial and fungal infections can also cause this problem.

Common symptoms of meningitis include a headache, fever, stiff neck, and pain at the skull base. In addition to these symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately if you have a fever and vomiting.

13. Cervical Myelopathy

Cervical myelopathy occurs when the cervical spinal cord is compressed. This can cause pain and numbness in your neck, hands, arms, and feet.

14. Lack of magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral in our body’s function. Magnesium deficiency usually causes twitches, muscle tension, cramps, soreness, and neck pain. Some health problems such as diabetes, malabsorption, chronic diarrhea, and celiac disease can cause loss of magnesium.

So how do you get enough magnesium? There are many foods rich in magnesium that should be eaten more. These foods include sunflower, chia, flax, cashews, oats, hazelnuts, and green leafy vegetables.

How to Get Rid of Headaches at the Base of the Skull
How to Get Rid of Headaches at the Base of the Skull

How to Get Rid of Headaches at the Base of the Skull

If you want to lessen your chances of getting headaches at your skull base, you may wish to change your lifestyle a bit. There are some things that you can do so that you can prevent your headaches, such as the following:

1. Consume more fish oil

If you love eating healthy types of fish, you will have no problems with getting the amount of fish oil you need to stay healthy. If you take in more Omega 3 Fatty Acids, you will be reducing the chances of acquiring headaches.

2. Consume ginger

Do you know that ginger is one of the home remedies people have always used to prevent headaches? This is because of Thromboxane A2, which can be found in ginger. This can help dilute the blood vessels and ensure fewer headaches will be felt.

3. Reduce your intake of coffee

Do you love drinking coffee? Perhaps you would like to drink caffeinated beverages because you feel you can work better with caffeine, but if you are experiencing more headaches, this may be due to drinking too much caffeine.

Also, if you are already encountering a headache and you would take caffeine, this may worsen the condition that you are in.

4. Have a better posture

You must remember that your posture can affect your neck, back, and skull base. If you do not want to have base skull headaches, you need to ensure you will improve your posture.

Try to keep your shoulders straight, chest out, and stomach in. This type of posture can make a huge difference.

5. Take supplements

Magnesium is one of the minerals you need to take that can help prevent the onset of headaches. If you take supplements that contain magnesium, then you can stop yourself from getting a headache.

If you have already done the abovementioned things but still experience headaches, you must seek proper treatments depending on your condition. You need to have yourself thoroughly checked by your doctor.

6. Muscle Relaxants

If strained muscles cause the pain you are experiencing in your neck and the base of your skull, you may be prescribed to take muscle relaxants to reduce the strain. Some safe and effective drugs will be prescribed to you by your doctor.

Read: 15 Easy Exercises and Stretches For Lower Back Pain Relief

7. Neck Brace

You know that some people who have gotten into accidents sometimes need to wear something around their necks that can prevent their necks from getting into positions that may worsen their condition. This can be removed once the area has already healed.

8. Neck Traction

This is different from a neck brace. What this does is supports the muscles and the ligaments that are being strained. This will eventually help eliminate the pressure being felt on the nerves.

Surgeries are needed for some severe cases, especially if different medications and treatments cannot cure the condition.