Tension headaches that cause pain in the base of the neck are considered as one of the prevalent type of headache. The region between the upper cervical spine and the base of the skull is called as the sub-occipital region. Since the pain can indicate a life-threatening condition, it is best to consult a doctor so that an accurate diagnosis can be given.
Excessive muscular tension
Even though not yet fully understood, tension headaches are considered to be partly linked to excessive muscular tension and contraction in the upper shoulders, sub-occipital region, neck and scalp. The tension can be instigated by prolonged stress and poor posture, resulting to dull, achy pain and inflammation. It is important to note that tension headaches can cause mild to moderate levels of diffuse pain that is distributed all over the head in a band-like pattern which includes the rear of the head as well as the base of the neck.
Tension headaches can also occur due to changes in the brain chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins which are responsible for activating the pain pathways and disrupt the ability of the brain to suppress pain. Aside from poor posture and stress, depression, jaw clenching, weak muscles and dehydration can contribute to the development of tension headaches and pain at the base of the neck. If you want to learn how to manage this type of headache, click here.
Dysfunction of the upper neck
The upper cervical vertebrae in the neck are at risk for injury and dysfunction. These bones function as the base for the head and should be able to move in different directions. Once the tendons, muscles, joints, ligaments or nerves of the upper neck are damaged, pain is locally produced but a cervicogenic headache can develop.
Cervicogenic headache is sub-occipital or occipital pain that originates from injury to the nerves of the neck, usually the trigeminal nerve complex or the small-sized joints of the neck.
The pain caused by a cervicogenic headache is usually dull and localized close to the base of the head but it can also be sharp with abrupt neck movements, spreading up to the top part of the head. It is important to note that upper neck dysfunction can also be triggered by osteoarthritis, bulging intervertebral discs, apophyseal joint impingement and nerve root irritation. Even trauma such as neck whiplash from a vehicular accident, stress, poor posture, increased age and migraines can increase the risk for cervicogenic headaches as well as neck pain.
The disease process
The disease process can lead to headaches at the base of the neck. Aside from arthritis, uncommon diseases such as spinal meningitis, brain tumors and Paget’s disease can add pressure on the sensitive structures at the base of the neck and head. Take note that both viral and bacterial meningitis frequently begin with a headache and a rigid neck, but usually include nausea, fever and sensitivity to light.