Headaches at the base of the skull often occurs due to damage of the nerve that passes across the neck. Such pain may radiate onto the shoulders and hamper the functioning of the neck and shoulders; it can trigger inflexibility of the neck and make it rigid thereby causing a stiff neck. Severe pain and headaches at the base of skull can pose problems to the neck in bearing the head’s weight, thereby causing the neck to tilt to one side.It is also possible for such pain to pass down to the arms and cause weakness of the arms. It can also increase the irritability of the scalp, wherein a solitary brush or comb stroke can cause unbearable pain.
Some of the common causes of headache at base of skull are discussed below.
Causes of headache at base of skull
Headache at base of skull may be caused due to:
- Increased neck strain: The head generally weight around 1½ to two kilograms. The neck muscles present at the base of the head offer it the support that it needs. Frequent and unnecessary motions of the head can cause increased strain and lead to excessive stress of the neck muscles, thereby triggering headaches at base of skull.
- Neck abnormalities: Neck arthritis and/or injuries can also trigger headaches at base of skull.
- An autoimmune condition called rheumatoid arthritis can affect the neck joints and cause neck arthritis, wherein the cartilage may experience inflammation and deterioration. It can eventually result in joint defects and deformity, bone loss, and swelling, which can then cause headaches at skull base.
- The bones of the cervical spine or neck are positioned one above the other and offer protection to the spinal cord at the point of emergence of the spinal nerves. The disc is an elastic cylindrical tissue present between these neck bones; it cushions the cervical spine when running and jumping, thereby preventing friction between the bones. A slipped disc, i.e., displacement of this disc, can cause compression of the nerves that pass along the disc and eventually result in burning sensations and headaches at the base of the skull.
- Trauma or injury to the neck area can cause neck strain or damage the tendons, ligaments, or other soft tissues in the neck region. This can cause discomfort and headaches at the back of the head.
- Nerve damage: Neuralgia or any kind of damage to the nerves emerging from the spinal cord, due to accidents, neck problems, etc., may cause headaches at base of skull as one of the symptoms of occipital neuralgia.
- Osteoporosis: It is a bone disorder marked by increased brittleness and weakness of the bones, which then make it susceptible to easy fracture. Osteoporosis of the occipital bone can cause pain at the back of head which may radiate towards the skull base. The bone disorder typically occurs in people over 50 years old.
- Benign tumors:Formation of non-malignant tumors in any area of the skull can cause headaches in any area of the head and neck, including the base of skull.
- Poor posture: Improper position when sitting or standing can exert increased and unnecessary pressure on the neck muscles. The neck muscles can get strained when poor posture is maintained for long periods of time when watching TV, using computers, etc., thereby causing headaches at back of the skull.
- Inactive lifestyle:A sedentary lifestyle marked by inactivity for long period of time can also exert heavy strain and stress on the neck and back muscles. Drooping and/or slouching when seated for many hours can especially add pressure to the back and neck muscles, eventually causing headaches at skull base.
- Sleeping positions: sleeping in improper or bad positions for long hours can also strain the muscles of the neck and cause a stiff neck and headaches at base of skull. The best position is to sleep on the back with the neck in a comfortable raised position as it causes the least strain or stress on the neck muscles. Insomniacs and sleep deprived people are most likely to experience persistent and long-term pain in neck.
Treatment of headache at base of skull
Treatment of headache at base of skull is dependent on the underlying causative factor. Some of the home remedies and medical treatmentsare mentioned below:
- Pressure associated with a pinched nerve or compressed disc can be alleviated by placing a strap at the back of the nape and below the jaw so as to support the weight that stretches and pulls the ligaments and muscles.
- Muscle relaxants to ease pain and relax injured neck muscles
- Arthritis cannot be cured. Hence, corticosteroids are prescribed for alleviating joint inflammation and pain.
- Circular motions and other exercises of the neck muscles can help enhance neck mobility, eliminated musculoskeletal issues, and aid the recovery process.
- Chiropractic therapy or spinal manipulation marked by repeated and frequent pressure on the misaligned bones of the spine can help regain normal alignment and find relief from headaches at base of skull.
- Occipital neuralgia and other severe nerve conditions may require surgical intervention.
- Limiting or avoiding amines, nitrates, Monosodium Glutamate, and caffeine; taking magnesium, fish oil, and ginger; and improving posture can help prevent headaches on base of skull.