Other bone problems, such as occipital bone osteoporosis may promote pain in the back of the neck and head too. However, it’s usually a problem of people over the age of 50.
Pay attention to the way you sleep as a bad sleeping position may result in stiff neck and strained neck muscles. It’s recommended to sleep on your back with your neck stabilized. You must also be aware that people with sleeping difficulties may suffer from chronic pain at the base of the neck too.
The most serious cause of pain at the base of the neck is cancer, which may develop in the bones of the cervical part of the spine. However, it’s a very rare case and your doctor may start to consider that option only when a headache is continuous and doesn’t respond to any therapies. Remember also that most tumors are not cancerous.
How to Diagnose a Headache at the Base of the Neck
If a headache at the base of your neck is not incidental and you start to worry about it or it causes so much pain or discomfort that you can’t live a normal life, go to your doctor at once.
He will perform a complete medical evaluation and he will run some tests. Be prepared to answer some detailed questions about your headaches, such as when the headaches appear and what their exact location is.
Try to recall how long the headaches last and if any change in your body position triggers the pain. The doctor will also want to know if you are a stressed person, if you had any head injuries in the past or if you deal with sleeping difficulties.
A physical test should be performed too. Thus, you doctor might press at different points at the back of your head to see if it causes any pain. A common test that shows if your pain is the result of occipital neuralgia is known as a nerve block. The doctor will give you a shot to blunt the nerve and if it brings you some relief, it means that it’s occipital neuralgia.
The doctor might also recommend you doing some tests. The basic ones are blood tests as blood compounds may tell you something about the underlying causes of your headaches.
Thanks to x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) your doctor will be provided with detailed pictures of structures in your body. The most detailed, however, is a computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) as it shows not only the organs and bones of our body, but also muscles and fat.
Remember, though, that you will have to do MRI scan or CAT scan only if your symptoms aren’t typical. In most cases a thorough medical evaluation is just enough to get the right diagnosis.
How to Treat a Headache at the Base of the Neck
A treatment depends on the cause, that’s why the right diagnosis is the key to find an effective solution to your headaches.
However, there are some things you can do on your own the moment you start feeling pain and discomfort as they will bring you immediate relief from pain.
Start with applying a warm compress on your neck and have a rest in a quiet place for a moment. Gently massage your neck or, if it’s difficult for you to access a painful place, ask somebody to do it for you. Buy some over-the-counter painkillers, such as naproxen or ibuprofen.
When home remedies don’t work, your doctor will prescribe you some stronger medications. A common option is using muscle relaxants, especially if your headache is due to a muscle injury.
A muscle relaxant, such as paracetamol, will relax the strained muscles and it will alleviate pain. When muscle relaxants used wisely and not too frequently, they are safe and effective.
Corticosteroids are also drugs that your doctor might prescribe you. They are mainly used by people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis as they soothe the inflamed joints and eliminate the pain for some time.
Your doctor may also decide to antiseizure drugs, for example carbamazepine or gabapentin. If your problems result from stress or depression, you may recommend you some antidepressants.
If the pain at the base of your neck is due to a compressed disc or pinched nerve, he may apply something which is known as neck traction. It is a kind of a strap which is put below your jaw and at the back of the nape. Its role is to eliminate the pressure from your muscles and ligaments.
A rather short-term kind of treatment are nerve blocks or steroid injections. A series of shots may bring you relief for a few weeks or even months. However, be aware that it’s just a symptomatic treatment so it’s very likely that the headaches will return after some time.