Headaches at the base of a skull can be named as occipital neuralgia. Because most nerves come from distant places through the neck and end up in the head area, they can result in pain if they are provoked with certain irritants. Neuralgia can be due to trauma, muscle tension, and stretch, infection, hiatus hernia, tumor or some other disease. It can be a sharp pain or a dull wide pain spreading into the head or bellow, to the arm and shoulder. Since this kind of pain can indicate a serious disease, it is important to consult a professional to isolate the source of the problem.
Possible Causes Of The Occipital Headache
Every structure of the head and neck can be affected, from the surface to the bone. Since there are a lot of possible causes, we will try to list some of them.
The right posture is crucial to release the pressure of certain areas of the backbone, especially in the neck area and the base of the skull. A lot of people have a habit of leaning while sitting and standing, leading to an unnatural position. People who are more prone to this kind of problem are those who stand for two long or who sit many hours at the table doing office work. Because this is not a natural position, a body struggles to obtain this posture which results in muscle tiring and tension.
Bad Sleeping Position
Some people tend to take unnatural and unpleasant positions after they fall asleep or even they use a lot of cushions below their head which can stretch the muscles and neck, leading to stiffness and tension in that area. It is recommended to slightly elevate the head to a comfortable position which can relieve the chronical pain and help with better sleep.
Cervical Discus Hernia
The backbone is made out of the bone structure and cartilage part between the vertebra. This cartilage consists of the outer part which is called the annulus fibrosus and the inner part which is called nucleus pulposus. This part of the spine is responsible for pressure reduction and sometimes it may reach to propulsion. This can happen if a stretch was too sudden and not supported by other structures. This disc displacing can compress the nerves that go through that area of the spine resulting in severe pain. It can radiate from the base of the skull to the arm and the shoulder, depending on its path and innervation.
Arthritis is a disease which has a chronical course. Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune system disorder which affects the joints and causes joint inflammation and deformity. It can result in neck pain and it can radiate to the head. Cartilage due to inflammation can lead to fracture and bone structure loss. People who suffer from this kind of disease have severe pain related to movements.
Straining Of The Muscle
There are a lot of muscles inside the neck which are there to support the weight of the head. The head can weight up to 2 kg, creating difficulties for the muscles to obtain the balance when there are some sudden movements. It is dangerous to make any sudden movements before stretching because the muscles aren’t prepared for that kind of stress. This can cause a straining of the muscle that result in the pain which radiates from neck to the head region.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease which results in bone structure loss. It happens in elderly people since they lose more calcium and hormones level. This can occur also within the vitamin D, calcium, iron, and magnesium loss. Bones become fragile and easy to break. There are some typical places that are prone to breakages such as the pelvis, radius, and vertebrae. People who overuse their neck area of the backbone are more prone to fracture in this area, such as surgeons, cooks, tailors, computer workers, etc. This can result in neck pain, bone crackling sound (crepitation), headaches followed by stiffness and swelling.
Because the neck is the place where a lot of nerves come together, it is susceptible to injuries. Spinal cord gives branches that come from the lateral side of the backbone and innervate the organs and other structures. Nerve damage can easily happen due to trauma event and it can compress the nerve or irritate with certain chemicals so it could result in neck pain radiating to the head.
A tumor in the head will usually cause symptoms due to pressure to the other structures in the skull because it is in the restrained area. There is no space for spreading and it can result in headaches at the base of the skull. A tumor doesn’t have to be in the occipital lobe of the skull, it can cause a distant pain due to pressure on other structures.
A pain in the occipital region can be a symptom of other diseases such as meningitis, Paget’s disease, brain aneurysms or some bacteria infection or sepsis. It can be also due to meningiomas and brain abscesses. There are a few characteristic signs for meningitis which are considered as a sign for this kind of infection, such as stiff neck, fever, central vomiting, sensitivity to light and other. It is important to visit a doctor to receive the right therapy.
Possible Treatment For Headaches At Base Of Skull
There are some over-the-counter medications and other drugs with doctor’s prescription and other therapy which can help reduce the tension and muscle pain.
- Exercise And Stretching. If you have a problem of a weak muscles and stiffness in your neck, an exercise for strengthening the neck can help and stretching can reduce the tension in this area, leading to relaxation.
- Chiropractic treatment. Some doctors will prescribe physical therapy where a chiro practitioner can help with misaligned joints and bone structures. The alignment is repaired with right-hand movement and making pressure to specific areas.
- Neck Extension. This technique uses cervical traction to reduce the pain and tension. It can be done at home or at professional’s office where he can put a pulling system around your jaw and beside your neck that releases the pressure of discs in the backbone. This can be a good therapy for a discus hernia.
- Corticosteroids. Sometimes there is an inflammation where edema makes pressure on a nerve which results in pain and headache in the base of the skull. Also, people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis use these drugs to reduce joints inflammation. They can be effective, but there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis.
- Surgery. In some cases, the nerves can be really compressed with surrounding structures that a surgery is necessary because other drugs won’t help. A disc protrusion can be treated in this way and also some traumas and tumors.
Can You Prevent Headaches?
There are some supplements that you can take to minimize the chance of nerve pain and tension. Some of these are fish oils. Fish oil is rich in omega-3 acids which help nerve functioning. It can reduce neck pain and headaches as well as some other pain in the body. Improve your posture and sit straight. Try to exercise and stretch even during your work in the office. Stand a bit and walk for a few minutes to reduce the tension. Reduce coffee intake since the caffeine can cause headaches if taken in large amounts. Take magnesium supplements to help your muscles relax and eat ginger since it affects vessel constriction and will help with headaches reduction.