Pain in Back of Head

Pain in the back of the head is a very common symptom that indicates some other underlying cause. Although head injuries can definitely cause this type of pain, there is usually some other medical or environmental cause for pain in the back of the head.

Causes of Pain in Back of Head

Pain in the back of your head is usually a temporary and treatable condition with home remedies. However, severe headaches that recur frequently or do not go away should prompt a visit to your healthcare provider. During that visit, you may have blood drawn and special x-rays taken to determine the cause of these headaches. The doctor will do these tests to rule out critical conditions such as meningitis, tumors, and stroke that can also cause this type of pain and that cannot be treated at home. Some of the most common causes of pain in the back of your head are outlined here.

Common Causes



Cervicogenic Headache

The cervicogenic headache is one of the most common types of pain in the back of the head. This pain is typically located on just one side and may radiate around the side of the head and into the forehead. Posture, neck injuries and other minor injuries often precipitate this type of headache. While certainly not limited to older people, this type of pain in the back of the head is often found in this age group.

Occipital Neuralgia

Related to the cervicogenic headache, the occipital neuralgia got its name from its location in the back of the head. Often occurring on one side, this sharp pain may radiate to the top of your head and eye.


Although migraines are not usually located in the back of the head, almost 40% of migraine sufferers do report some pain in the back of the head. Often, these people will also have neck pain which can be treated to relieve some of the symptoms associated with the migraine.

Ice-pick Headache

Ice-pick headache gets its name from the severe stabbing pain that usually lasts just a few seconds. Although they can be located anyplace in the head, these pains can also be localized in the back of the head.

Ice-cream Headache

Anyone who has eaten ice-cream or a frozen drink too quickly knows the "ice-cream" headache. Usually felt in the temples, a small percentage of people may also feel this pain in the back of the head.

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are a type of migraine that can be located anywhere in the head. Over one fourth of sufferers, do experience this pain in the back of the head.

Tension Headache

Current research indicates that people who experience tension headaches seem to have increased susceptibility to pain. This may result in muscle tenderness in the neck which can cause the pain in the back of the head.


If you suffer from sinusitis, you know that this pain is usually located in the face and forehead. However, it is also very common for sufferers of sinusitis to have pain in the back of the head as the sinuses become more inflamed.

Herpes Zoster Virus

Herpes zoster virus can cause burning neck and head pain usually localized to one side. This pain in the back of the head typically precedes the rash that is commonly associated with a herpes zoster flare-up.

There are several serious causes of pain in the back of the head that must be medically treated.

More Serious Causes



Vertebral Artery Dissection

A vertebral artery dissection usually starts as a very severe and sudden pain in the back of the head. It can usually be distinguished from the much more common cervicogenic headache because the onset is so rapid and the pain may be excruciating.

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Bleeding in and around the brain, called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, is a medical emergency present in almost 10% of people who complain about severe pain in the back of the head. Those who suffer from this condition typically describe the headache as "the worst I've ever had". Nausea, vomiting, dizziness and confusion are common symptoms associated with this condition.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

With any infection in the head, you are likely to notice swelling of the lymph nodes in the back of the head and neck. Scalp, ear, eyes, nose and throat infections can all result in swollen lymph glands. Childhood rubella can also cause this swelling. As they swell, these nodes can be very painful in the neck and back of the head.

Infectious Meningitis

The pain in the back of the head caused by meningitis is due to the damage to the nerves from the infection and the severe stiff neck that typically develops with the disease. One of the defining symptoms with this disease is the very high fever that will also accompany the head and neck pain.

Trapped Nerve

Occasionally, pain in the back of the head can be caused by compression of a nerve resulting in nerve damage. Nerves often involved include the hypoglossal nerve, upper cervical nerves, or accessory nerves.

Temporal Arteritis

There are several arteries that supply blood to the back of the head. Difficult to diagnose, this condition is caused by inflammation to the arteries in the head. A very rare condition, the treatment for temporal arteritis is steroids.

Occasionally, pain in the back of the head can be caused by some internal or environmental physical stimulus.

Physical Stimulus



High Altitude

Headaches are relatively common in people who are not acclimated to high altitudes. Of those who get headaches at high altitudes, only about 4% will feel the pain in the back of the head. Most will feel the pain as a generalized headache.


For some unknown reason, coughing can trigger headaches. In some cases, a congenital malformation may be to blame but, in most cases, researchers simply do not know why a cough precipitates a headache. In about 35% of these cases, people felt the pain in the back of the head.

Cardiac Cephalgia

One of the interesting causes of pain in the back of the head is from a heart attack or other ischemic cardiac condition. Although there are conflicting studies, in one study approximately 33% of heart attack victims felt pain in the back of the head. Opening the coronary arteries seems to cure the problem.

Neck Muscle Injuries

One very common cause of pain in the back of the head is a neck muscle injury such as occurs in a whiplash injury. In these injuries, the pain typically starts in the neck or shoulders and radiates into the back of the head.

Low Pressure

A low pressure headache most commonly is felt on the sides of the head but many people also experience the pain in the back of the head that is worse with activity. Along with the pain, the sufferer may also experience hearing difficulty or ringing in the ears.

There are also certain diseases that can cause pain in the back of the head. These causes will require medical treatment, medication, and possible surgery.




Brain Tumor

Approximately 25% of people with brain tumors may experience pain in the back of the head. Most of the time, this is not the most common symptom when someone has a brain tumor.

Parkinson's Disease

For some unknown reason, about one-third of people with Parkinson's Disease complain about pain in the back of the head and neck.

Dengue Fever

In Dengue Fever, the sufferer will have a very severe headache and high fever. Approximately 20% of these headaches will be in the back of the head.


Thyrotoxicosis is often called hyperthyroidism. Most frequently, this is diagnosed as Grave's disease. In this disease, pain in the back of the head is a common symptom. Medications and thyroidectomy are common treatments.

The treatments for these conditions will vary depending on the cause. Some of the causes will require medical treatment while others can be treated with home remedies or lifestyle changes.

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