What Causes Headaches at the Back of the Head?

What causes headaches at the back of the head?

HeadachesMigraine is most commonly seen in females.

Headaches in the back of the head can have a number of different causes; it might 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. 

What are the different types of headaches occurring 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

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