The base of the neck is made up of occipital bone which is attached to the atlas and axis, the first two cervical bones. The atlas and axis are connecting bones between the skull and the spine. These two bones are important for rotation and nodding movements of the neck. Pain at the base of neck may affect neck movement. Most of the time, pain at the base of neck is due to compression of nerves passing through this complex area which is also called sub-occipital area.
Pain at the base of neck is responsible for occipital headache.Sometimes the scalp also becomes sensitive. Simple combing may become difficult. Pain from the base of skull may radiate to shoulder and arms. The muscles of neck may become stiff and at the same time, the patient may complain of arm weakness. In case of severe neck pain at its base, patient may find difficulty in holding his head and thus he may walk with a stooped neck.
Causes Of Pain At The Base Of Skull And Neck
Cervical slipped disc may cause pain at the base of skull. Trauma to the cervical spine or chronic diseases such as arthritis may cause pain at the base of skull.There are seven cervical bones; each placed one above the other that forms part of neck. Between each cervical vertebra, there is a circular elastic disc which acts as a shock absorber and prevents friction between the two vertebra’s. When this disc protrudes out from its place, the condition is called slipped disc. Slipped cervical disc compresses the nerve passing above it. This may cause pain which may radiate to the base of neck or skull.
Bone spurs also called osteophytes is extra growth of bone resulting from excess stress and dysfunction. When bone spur is present in cervical bone, it puts pressure on the adjacent nerves, muscles and tissues. This may result in stiffness, pain and tingling. Because neck has wide movement range, bone spurs are very common in cervical spine. Pain resulting from compression of nerves and muscle spasm may radiate to the base of neck.
Poor posture of neck: Poor posture can be a cause for pain at the base of neck. Especially those who constantly put strain and stress on the muscles and ligaments which support head and neck are prone to suffer from such type of neck pains. If you are working on a computer for a prolonged period of time for many days, and months there is possibility of pain at the base of neck.
Inflammation of occipital nerve: the nerve which supplies the scalp skin is called occipital nerve. When this nerve is damaged or compressed due to slipped disc or due to an injury it can give rise to headache which is often called occipital headache. Occipital headache occurs at the base of skull.
Skull tumor: tumor at the base of skull will have one of its symptoms as pain at the base of skull. Most of these tumors are benign.
Treatment For Neck Pain At Base Of Skull
When the pain is acute and of recent onset, anti- inflammatory medicine and pain killer may be beneficial in reducing the symptom. However, if the pain persists for a long duration or if it is chronic, the person needs some other form of treatments.
- Massage is useful in relieving stress and stiffness of muscles and tissues that support the neck and skull.
- Acupressure and acupuncture are other alternative methods for relieving pain at the base of skull.
- Pain arising from pinched nerve as a result of cervical disc prolapsed can be managed by neck traction. Traction helps to stretch the muscles and ligament of neck. Stretching mechanism helps to relax the strained muscles and release pressure from the pinched nerve.
- Apply heating pad to the affected area. Heat accelerates circulation, which may be effective in reducing muscle stiffness and stress. However too much of heat may do more harm than good, so do it in moderation.