Pain in the back of head is normally temporary and often treated with some home remedies. However, severe headaches that occur frequently or do not go away may require medical attention. Your doctor may order some tests and x-rays to identify what causes back of head pain. The blood tests are needed to rule out any serious conditions like tumors and meningitis.

What Are the Possible Causes of Back of Head Pain?


Cervicogenic Headache

This kind of back of head pain, characterized as secondary headaches, are caused by neck problems. It can be felt when the spinal joints located in neck are irritated, or when the muscles of the neck are strained. Bad posture, cervical abnormalities and stress could be contributing factors.


Tension Headache

Pain in the back of the head may affect the muscles when neck and head tighten. 

  • The possible cause of the headache is stress. The fluctuating levels of neurotransmitters can contribute to the headache. Often, the pain begins at the back of the head. 

  • You may have a tightness sensation or feel a dull, squeezing pain in the head. Other factors like teeth grinding, anxiety, sleep deprivation, poor posture and fatigue can also add to muscular tension.


Cluster Headache

26 in 652 cases experienced cluster headaches, while 10% people complaint of cluster headache with neck pain. 

Oxygen and Sumatriptan injections are good for acute attacks, while Verapamil is the best prevention drug.



Migraine is more common in woman and may result in lack of sleep, anxiety, fatigue and stress.

During a migraine attack, you may feel a pulsating pain in the head. There are times that the pain is experienced in the back of head and even on the neck. Migraine is characterized as severe vascular headaches which are accompanied with vomiting, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. 


Sinus Headaches

 Inflammation and infections of the sinuses can result in back of head pain. When the sphenoid sinuses, located deep within the skull, becomes inflamed, back of head pain will happen. The pain may increase when the affection person bends forward.


Occipital Neuralgia

When the occipital nerves are damaged, you may have occipital neuralgia and experience back of head pain.

Possible causes of the damaged occipital nerves are neck injury, tumors, infections and spinal column compression. 

If you suffer from occipital neuralgia, you can use steroids, painkillers and nerve block injections to ease the pain. Besides, massage therapy can also be helpful.


Ice-Pick Headache

Around 35% people may experience brief intense pain in the head that lasts several seconds. Ice-pick headache is one of them that may appear suddenly and even leave you feel weak in your knees, especially if they are intense. In some individuals, ice-pick headaches are often felt on the neck or the back of head, though it can also be felt around the eye.


Vertebral Artery Dissection

Vertebral artery dissection, a very rare condition, can cause back of head pain. And based on statistics, cervicogenic headache is 800 times much common compared to vertebral artery dissection.


Subarachnoid Haemorrhage

Around 10% people visiting the hospital due to sudden pain at the back of their head are diagnosed with brain hemorrhage, known as subarachnoid haemorrhage.

  • If the cause of the condition is ruptured berry aneurysm, immediate treatment is needed. If not, second bleeding may happen.

  • If the pain is severe and occurs suddenly, it needs medical attention.


Temporal Arteritis

Temporal arteritis is the inflammation of medium and large arteries which supply blood to the head. It is still unclear about what causes it, but it is believed that immune response is to blame. 

  • People who have been taking large doses of antibiotics as well as those who suffer with severe infections are at higher risk of having temporal arteritis. 

  • Symptoms of the condition are scalp tenderness, vision problems, jaw pain and back of head pain.


Parkinson's Disease

The coat hanger (a rare in Parkinson’s and the pain resembles a coat hanger) pain occurs to people having low blood pressure associated to Parkinson’s disease or a related condition known as Multiple System Atrophy. People with this condition can feel a pain that extends from the neck to the back of head.


Brain Tumor

11 out of 51 people with brain tumors complain of back of head pain, although headache in the back of the head is not really a distinct feature of brain tumor. Most brain tumors that are present with neurological symptoms have an epileptic seizure.


Cough Headache

Cough headache needs more investigation. The exact causes are yet to find but a condition known as Chiari Malformation may be one of it.

In a study of 83 cases of headaches triggered by coughing, 74 cases occur without any cause. 35% of them experience back of head pain. Meanwhile, 9 cases occur with a cause. Four of the cases had occipital pain.


High Altitude Headache

High altitude headaches affect the whole head while half of the patients may have worse pain when there is exertion. And 4 out of 98 climbers at high altitude have experienced pain in the back of the head. 

When to Seek Medical Care

If your back of head pain is occasional, you may try the home remedies. However, you should go to see a doctor, if: 

  • It occurs all the time.

  • The pain is severe. The headache can be a sign of serious conditions like encephalitis, meningitis and stroke.

  • Severe headache is accompanied with stiff neck, numbness, high fever, fainting and confusion (go to the nearest emergency room).


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