The odd thing about headaches is that although everyone probably has several of them throughout the course of a year, they are one of the least understood ailments on earth. In fact, headaches can be symptomatic of so many underlying diseases or conditions that it is often difficult to pinpoint the actual cause. There are even times when a doctor will shake his or her head in dismay and say "Take an aspirin and call me in the morning if you aren’t feeling better".
The reality is that sometimes the cause of headaches just can’t be diagnosed. However, there are certain broad classifications of headaches that are symptomatic of something which can easily be discovered.
For example, if you have a cold or sinus infection and a headache near your forehead or over your temples, it would be a pretty good assumption that you have a sinus headache. Or if you wake up in the morning after a night of heavy drinking with a pounding headache, you know it’s just a common symptom of a hangover.
Headaches in back of the head, however, are a little more difficult to assess. Most often they are ascribed to being stress or tension related and therefore labeled as a ‘tension headache’.
These can be brought on from tension in the upper muscles of the back and shoulders (thus the name tension headache) and are often relieved when those muscles are relaxed therapeutically. A tension headache can be relieved with OTC painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen.
But relief from tension headaches in back of head with painkillers is only temporary so it becomes necessary to find a way to relax the muscles and keep them relaxed.
Some people find that muscle relaxants are effective, but again that is only a ‘band-aid’ fix. Other people find relief by taking a hot bath or shower, while others use a heating pad or a get a massage to relax the muscles. Other people find that guided imagery relaxation meditations are beneficial while some individuals do a series of yoga stretches to relieve tension.
People who sit long hours at a desk, in front of a computer or driving in a vehicle are more prone to tension headaches because that muscle group tightens up and causes pressure on the base of the skull and upper spine.
It is suggested that if you suspect that this is the cause of your headaches in back of head that you stop periodically throughout the day to stretch and work those muscles a bit to loosen them up.
While any time you are forced to tighten the muscles in the back of your shoulders, upper back and neck can bring on headaches in back of head, sometimes they are caused by other, more difficult to diagnose conditions. One of the most common causes of this type of headache that is not related to tension is Occipital Neuralgia which is caused by trauma or irritation of the occipital nerve.
Perhaps the best way to accurately diagnose this Occipital Neuralgia is for the doctor to inject a local anesthetic to see if freezing the nerve offers relief. Doctors will often prescribe Gabapentin which is quite effective in treating neuropathic pain.
While rare, some people suffer from a condition called Temporal Arteritis that could even lead to blindness. Although this type of headache is usually felt on the sided of the head, it can manifest as headaches in back of head because of the proximity of the occipital arteries and the occipital nerves.
However, it generally strikes those over the age of 50 so keep that in mind. If you are of that age group and suddenly develop headaches in back of head, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
Even if you have a job that keeps you seated for long periods of time, don’t assume that you have a simple tension headache. There are so many more serious conditions that headaches in back of head could be symptomatic of that if you notice that you have more than your share of them, consult your primary care physician.
In the meantime, you can often find relief from headaches in back of head with OTC NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and with a hot compress, a shoulder and neck massage, a heating pad or some holistic relaxation techniques.
The important thing to remember is that if you suddenly develop a headache that stays with you for more than a day, contact your doctor.
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