Occipital headaches are a particular kind of headache related to the occipital nerve, or the term could also apply to any headache in the occipital region. The occipital nerve originates from the top vertebrae, to the base of the skull, and passes down the back to various other areas. These areas connect up the areas of skin at the back of the head and behind the ear, thus it is that pain associated with the occipital nerve is also found in this area.
Malfunction, damage or other problems related to the occipital nerve can cause a condition called occipital neuralgia and trigger both migraine or tension style headaches. The causes for this are numerous: trauma (a blow) to the head could damage these nerves, spinal column compression caused by age or illness, nerve lesions caused by disease or tissue damage, infections or inflammation, gout, diabetes, blood vessel problems or poor circulation and bad posture are all among some of the damaging factors.
This type of pain, as with many headaches, is more common in women than in men, but it can happen to anyone. These types of headaches are typically characterized by the following symptoms, and although these can be very similar to migraine headaches but the causes are not the same. Bear in mind as well that occipital neuralgia is caused by nerves making muscles spasm, whereas migraines and many other forms of headaches are vascular:
- Inability to rotate or flex one’s neck.
- A sufferer may have headache that is localized or following a spiral pattern on the side of the head, originating in the upper neck or base of the skull, either on one or both sides.
- The skin is tender to the touch, often hypersensitive. Things like wearing a hat or combing your hair could be painful.
- Sufferer may experience pressure behind the eyes and also experience a degree of light sensitivity too.
- Pain at the base of the skull that is either relieved by pressure or increased by it.
- As the occipital nerve also runs into the upper back and shoulders pain may also register here.
- Bad posture causing bad spinal compression and other issues.
The treatments for occipital headaches are as varied as their causes. One common method for those not experiencing hypersensitivity is acupuncture or acupressure and massage. Here the massage hits key spots of the nerve and encourages blood and oxygen flow; many individuals have reported success from this.
Other medicinal option also exist, but it is wise to consult a physician to get a more holistic overview of whether the headache is idiopathic (meaning it is the primary problem) or a complication of another condition as listed above. Changing lifestyle habits can also have an effect if your nerves are being affected by something such as your posture (a forward head posture common to poor sitting in chairs can put undue pressure on the nerves and muscles in this part of the neck). Completing some neck and back exercises and correcting posture and neck position are valuable tools not just for correcting the head pain but also for more holistic health benefits too.