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How To Treat A Headache At The Base Of Your Skull

Understanding Different Types Of Headaches

Adam Partridge, PA-C Profile Photo

Written by Adam Partridge, PA-C on June 1, 2021

So, your child is complaining about a headache at the base of their skull, and naturally, your first instinct is to panic. Is it something serious? How can you help them?

Most often, this type of headache is called a tension headache, and there are a few ways that you can relieve it in the comfort of your own home. That said, there are many different kinds of headaches, and figuring out what kind of headache you have is an important part of knowing what the right treatment plan is.

That said, this article talks about the basics of different headaches, how you can treat them at home, and what exactly causes the different types of headaches in the first place.

The Different Types of Headaches

As you could imagine, there are many different types of headaches that you can experience. Headaches can vary in many ways, but most of all, headaches vary when it comes to intensity, location, frequency, and cause.

Primary vs. Secondary Headaches

Simply put, primary headaches are headaches where the main problem is the headache itself. That is, the headache is not a symptom of an underlying disease or condition, and getting rid of the pain will solve all of your problems.

Primary headaches sure can be very painful, but this type of headache is not dangerous and will not cause you harm if left untreated. The pain from primary headaches is caused by inflamed nerves, blood vessels, or muscles around your head.

Examples of primary headaches include:

  • Migraines
  • Tension Headaches
  • Hypnic Headaches (rare)
  • Cluster Headaches

On the other hand, secondary headaches are headaches that come on because of an underlying disease or condition that triggers pain-sensitive areas near your neck and head. This type of headache is rare but much more serious than primary headaches, and a secondary headache will typically happen out of nowhere and cause excruciating pain.

Secondary headaches can be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as:

  • A brain aneurysm
  • Brain tumors
  • Meningitis
  • Head or neck injuries
  • Sinusitis
  • Overuse of pain relieving medications like ibuprofen
  • Dehydration

That said, more often than not, a headache will be nothing to worry about, and if the pain is specifically at the base of the skull you are almost definitely dealing with a tension headache.

What is a Tension Headache? Why Does It Happen?

A tension headache is a headache that results from some kind of stress on your body, like bad posture, stress, or repetitive activities. The pain from tension headaches begins in your neck and shoulders and then travels up to the base of your skull, so one way of knowing that a tension headache is coming on is that telltale shoulder and neck pain. The pain can also be described as a wrapping sensation around your head.

What Causes Tension Headaches?

Tension headaches have a multitude of different causes, but the most common causes include:

  • Pressure or stress at work
  • Relationship stress
  • Constantly looking down at a phone or laptop
  • Working on a computer all day
  • Spending hours at a time driving with no breaks
  • Spending hours at a time playing video games
  • Clenching your jaw during the day or at night
  • Sleeping on your stomach
  • Eyestrain
  • Wearing new glasses
  • Prolonged poor posture
  • Teeth grinding

The reason why these kinds of things can lead to a tension headache is that these activities overstretch the muscles in the back of your neck and ultimately weaken them. This weakening of your neck muscles is what increases the likelihood of a tension headache.

Episodic vs. Chronic Tension Headaches

Tension headaches can be episodic or chronic, or they may only happen every once in a while. Episodic tension headaches are generally tied to stressful events and the pain tends to go away when the stress goes away. The pain from episodic tension headaches comes on quickly and intensely.

Chronic tension headaches, on the other hand, can happen every day and may start as soon as you wake up or after a long day of working or carrying out other activities.

How Can I Treat a Tension Headache at Home?

There are plenty of home remedies that can help you relieve the pain of a tension headache and even prevent them in the future.

Home remedies include:

  • Getting an eye exam: If you find that you are frequently experiencing eye strain, other eye discomforts, or are having difficulty seeing with your current pair of glasses, you should get an eye exam. An eye exam will help you find any issues with your vision, and you can upgrade your glasses prescription if need be.
  • Redesigning your desk area: If tension headaches tend to happen after you spend a day sitting at your desk working, your workspace may need some rearranging. For example, raising your laptop or computer to a slightly higher level can help keep you from leaning over and looking downwards all day, or a document stand can help prevent headaches caused by hunching over to read or write.
  • Maintaining good posture: Paying attention to your posture throughout the day can make a huge difference. Avoiding slouching while you work can help reduce the tension in your neck and shoulders. Even better, practicing yoga, taking breaks during the day to stretch out your muscles, or spending some time exercising in another way are great ways to help with this.
  • Visiting a dentist: If you grind your teeth or frequently clench your jaw, a dentist may be able to help you out or give you a mouth guard if need be.
  • Applying heat to the base of your skull: Applying a hot pack to the base of your skull for 10-20 minutes may help ease some of your pain.
  • Rolling your muscles: For this method of relief, you will need to place two tennis balls inside a sock and then tie it closed. Lie on your back on the floor and place the tennis balls underneath the base of your head so that they are pressing on your muscles, and then rock your head back and forth and side to side such that the tennis balls work to compress and massage the muscles in your neck and base of the head.
  • Alleviate stress: People naturally hold stress in their shoulders and neck. Finding time to meditate, enjoy a hobby, or other methods of stress relief can help these muscles relax similar to rolling them out.

Sometimes, these types of changes and remedies just won’t be enough to get rid of the discomfort. When this is the case, some acetaminophen should do the trick.

Genexa’s Kids’ Pain & Fever acetaminophen oral suspension medication works to address minor aches and pains, like headaches, and it is made with the same active ingredient as Children’s Tylenol… just without those other artificial inactive ingredients.

Genexa is the first clean medicine brand, and they are working to revolutionize the world of medicine. Clean medicine is medicine that is made with the active ingredients you need, and without the, artificial inactive ingredients you don’t need or want to give to your children.

Any inactive ingredients in Genexa’s medicines are non-GMO, gluten-free, and certified vegan and they are there to improve the taste, texture, and stability of the product.

Genexa was founded by two dads who know all of the struggles that being a parent entails, and they work hard so that you can rest assured that you are getting real, clean medicine you can trust.

If the headache does not respond to OTC medication or is particularly intense or prolonged, it is worth consulting a doctor and getting a professional opinion. It is never a bad idea to play it safe, especially when it comes to your child’s health.

Headaches are very rarely an indication that something is seriously wrong, but your doctor will be able to recommend pain relievers or methods of managing the discomfort until the headache goes away. Plus, if something really is wrong, your doctor will be able to get to the bottom of it.

The Bottom Line

There are many different types of headaches that fall into the two main categories of primary or secondary. Primary headaches can be painful but are completely harmless, whereas secondary headaches can be a sign of an underlying disease or condition.

When your headache specifically causes pain at the base of your skull, you are most likely experiencing a tension headache. This kind of headache starts in your neck and shoulders and then travels up to the base of your head, and it can be caused by many things including stress, bad posture, eyestrain, or jaw-clenching. Tension headaches can usually be pretty easily treated with some stretching, massaging of the head and neck, and some small lifestyle changes. OTC pain relievers can also help take care of the discomfort if home remedies do not work.

If your little one is dealing with a tension headache, do not stress too much -- they will probably be feeling good to go in no time.