Neck pain at the base of the skull, also called occipital neuralgia, is a common condition that causes chronic headaches and pain in the back of the head and neck. This type of neck pain can originate from pinched nerves, muscle tension, or injury to the upper spine. Fortunately, there are several methods to find relief from this unpleasant pain.
Apply Heat or Ice
Applying heat or ice to the painful area can help reduce inflammation and ease muscle tightness. Try using a heating pad or hot water bottle on the back of the neck for 10-15 minutes a few times per day. You can also massage the area with warm coconut or olive oil. For quick pain relief, wrap some ice in a towel and apply to the base of the skull for 10-20 minutes. Alternate heat and ice to see which works best for your pain.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help alleviate occipital neuralgia symptoms. These medications reduce inflammation which often contributes to neck pain. Follow dosage instructions carefully and avoid long term use which can lead to side effects. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another option for relieving headaches related to neck pain. Consult your doctor about using oral medications safely along with other treatments.
Stretch and Strengthen Neck Muscles
Tight neck muscles often play a role in neck pain at the base of the skull. Doing gentle stretches and exercises for the neck can help improve range of motion and reduce muscle tension. Start by slowly rolling the neck from side to side and tilting the head forward and back. Try chin tucks by pulling the chin straight back to flex the cervical spine. Also stretch the upper trapezius by tilting the head to one side and lightly pulling the opposite ear down. Building strength in the neck with isometric exercises using the hands as resistance can support the muscles long term.
Getting therapeutic massage from a licensed professional can effectively treat occipital neuralgia. The massage therapist will focus on tight muscles at the base of the skull using techniques like trigger point therapy and myofascial release. Receiving regular massages long term is ideal for managing chronic neck pain. If massage is unavailable, try self-massage with a tennis ball against knotted areas. Ask a partner to rub tense neck and shoulder muscles.
Poor posture often strains the neck muscles leading to pain at the base of the skull. Make an effort to keep the neck aligned with the spine whether sitting at a desk, driving, or standing. Avoid slouching or hunching the shoulders which can compress the neck vertebrae. Use ergonomic chairs and pillows to maintain proper posture. Place a pillow behind the lower back when sitting. Standing with the back against a wall to open up the chest can also help improve posture.
Getting acupuncture treatments is an effective way to find relief from neck pain caused by occipital neuralgia. The acupuncture points are placed in areas of muscle tension to reduce inflammation and stimulate healing. Sessions may also incorporate massage, cupping, or electrostimulation for increased results. Many patients find long lasting pain reduction with regular acupuncture treatments.
Seeing a chiropractor for spinal manipulation and adjustments can realign the cervical vertebrae to reduce neck pain. Gentle twisting or stretching of the neck performed by a chiropractor can improve mobility of the facet joints, taking pressure off compressed nerves. Ongoing chiropractic care may be necessary to correct underlying problems contributing to headaches and occipital neuralgia.
Since tension often aggravates neck pain, taking time to relax can make a big difference. Try breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or music therapy to calm the nervous system. Use visualization to imagine the muscles softening and pain melting away. Getting a regular massage or reading a book can also help you unwind. Take frequent breaks during work to relax tense muscles. Managing stress through relaxation will encourage healing.
Making some simple changes to your daily work set up can ease the strain on your neck. Sit up close to your work with shoulders relaxed, not hunched. Your eye level should be just above the computer screen. Place the keyboard at elbow height to keep wrists straight. Hold the phone between your ear and shoulder instead of tilting the neck. Setting a timer to take breaks and stretch helps a lot too.
Some patients find relief from occipital neuralgia by trying alternative treatments like craniosacral therapy, myofascial release, or trigger point injections. Acupressure, restorative yoga, and osteopathic manipulation are other options. A physical therapist can recommend therapies based on your symptoms and response. While alternative treatments lack solid scientific evidence, they may be worth exploring when other methods fail.
When to See a Doctor
It’s important to consult a physician about chronic or worsening neck pain to rule out any serious condition. Seek emergency care for sudden, severe headaches along with fever or neurological symptoms which could indicate a more serious issue. For most cases of neck pain at the base of the skull, trying conservative self-care and natural remedies can help manage discomfort. But check with a doctor if symptoms persist for more than a few weeks despite treatment.
While dealing with pain and headaches from occipital neuralgia can be frustrating, there are many ways to find relief through self-care, physical therapy, massage, and medication. Being patient and trying a variety of remedies is key, as neck pain can take time to resolve. Proper posture and ergonomics can also go a long way in preventing recurrent discomfort. With some consistency applying these tips, most patients see great improvement managing neck pain at the base of the skull.