Relieve Pain in the Back of the Head with These Tips

Pain in the back of the head has different causes. Recognising the different symptoms and triggers is the key to effective pain relief.

Woman holding the back of her head

Different conditions can cause headaches that lead to pain in the back of the head. While these headaches usually subside with proper treatment, some may indicate an underlying condition. Here are a few headache types that result in pain in the back of the head and expert tips to ensure effective relief.

Pain in the Back of the Head: Types, Causes, and Remedies

Young man sitting in an uncomfortable chair, looking at his tablet. 
Incorrect sitting postures can cause pain in the back of the head and a stiff neck.

There are several types of headaches that cause pain in the back of the head and neck. They can be described as either primary or secondary headaches and have different causes and triggers. Examples of primary headaches are migraines, cluster, and tension headaches. Secondary headaches, meanwhile, are those caused by medical conditions.

Tension headache

This headache usually affects the temples on both sides of the head. There is also aching pain in the neck and shoulders, which can also travel to the back of the head. It’s especially common in people who are stressed out or have the flu.

Expert tip: You can ease the pain with relaxation techniques like exercise and massages. Applying a warm flannel to the back of the neck may also provide relief. If home remedies don’t help, you can also try painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol.

Headache due to bad posture

Sitting, standing, or sleeping in an incorrect posture for a prolonged period can cause pain in the back of the head along with stiffness in the neck and shoulders.

Expert tip: Learning how to improve your posture by exercising, stretching, and sitting in a correct manner. You can also use memory foam pillows that fit your head and neck when you sleep or ergonomic chairs designed to support your body in a seated position.

Cluster headache

This headache causes sharp pain in the back of the head. It can occur daily, sometimes up to a few times a day. It usually lasts for less than an hour and at the same time every day. However, it usually goes away on its own.

Expert tip: The most effective way to treat cluster headaches is using Sumatriptan injections or nasal sprays. You can also consider Zolmitriptan spray or oxygen therapy, which involves breathing pure oxygen directly through a mask to ease cluster headaches.

Migraine headache

Many people tend to experience this migraine within any area of the head. It’s more common in women than in men and may present with light-headedness or sensitivity towards light or sound. The pain will then progress to other parts of the head – like the back of the head or to the sides. It’s also associated with sensory disturbances (also known as aura). Aura usually precedes a migraine headache and can make the pain more severe if its triggers persist. The common triggers of a migraine include alcohol consumption, caffeine withdrawal, and a lack of sleep.

Expert tip: Healthcare professionals may recommend two treatment approaches: abortive medications, which inhibit or reduce your symptoms or preventive medications for severe migraines that impact your daily life.

Relieving Pain in the Back of the Head with TCM

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), headaches like pain in the back of the head can occur due to internal or external factors. Examples of internal factors include a kidney deficiency or liver yang (active energy) excess. A kidney deficiency is likely to cause a dull, numbing pain, while liver yang excess can induce a throbbing pain.

Headaches can also come from external elements like an invasion of wind-cold and wind-dampness pathogens. “Wind-dampness headaches can cause a dull and heavy pain in the back of the head, while wind-cold headaches can cause a tight and constant pain that gets worse you are exposed to cold temperatures,” explains Eu Yan Sang TCM Physician Ng Qing Xiang.

According to Physician Ng, TCM practitioners will usually prescribe suitable treatments after considering several factors related to the headache, which include:

  • the triggers
  • duration of the pain
  • location of the pain
  • nature of the pain and accompanying symptoms
  • incidents that may have occurred before the onset of a headache

Acupressure

3D visuals of the Hegu and Fengchi acupoints
The Hegu and Fengchi acupoints can be stimulated to relieve headaches.

Two specific acupoints can help relieve pain in the back of the head:

  • Hegu (LI 4), located in the middle of the second metacarpal bone, in between the web of the thumb and index finger. Applying pressure to this acupoint can be good for alleviating headaches, as well as ailments of the face and head. However, a pressing of this acupoint is not safe for pregnant ladies.
  • Fengchi (GB 20), located in a depression at the base of the skull. This acupoint can help relieve headaches caused by an invasion of the wind pathogen.

A nourishing diet

Consuming foods that invigorate the kidney can also relieve headaches in people with a weak body constitution. These foods consist of mulberries, black beans, black chicken, and black sesame seeds.

Likewise, a deficiency of blood and qi (vital life energy) may also be a risk factor for headaches. These deficiencies are likely to cause dull pain, which usually occurs or gets worse after performing an activity for long hours. You can also appear pale and feel breathless or lethargic easily. For this reason, you can consume herbal formulations like American ginseng, astragalus root, Chinese yam, or red dates. Pain in the back of the head is common. As such, it’s important to recognise its symptoms and causes early. This will help you take suitable steps to achieve effective pain relief and improve your overall quality of life.

References

  1. MedLine Plus. Headache. [Accessed 9 November 2021]
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2020. [Accessed 12 November 2021]
  3. 2018. Tension-type headaches.  [Accessed 12 November 2021]
  4. 2020. Cluster headaches. [Accessed 12 November 2021]
  5. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Migraine Headaches.  [Accessed 12 November 2021]

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