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Causes of Pain in the Neck & Back of the Head

author image Blake Biddulph
Dr. Blake Biddulph received his chiropractic degree from Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas in 2007 and has been practicing as a chiropractic physician in Provo, Utah, ever since. He has a special interest in spinal rehabilitation and treats patients with a variety of neck and back conditions. He has been writing health-related articles and newsletters for several years.
Causes of Pain in the Neck & Back of the Head
Tension headache

Pain that occurs in the neck and back of the head is a common set of symptoms. The cervical spine is a complex structure made up of seven cervical vertebrae, ligaments, muscles and sensitive nerves. Since the muscles of the cervical spine attach to the skull, problems in the neck can cause headaches in the back of the head. Most causes of neck pain or head pain are not serious though some may be. Any pain that radiates into the arm or shoulder, pain that does not resolve within a few days or loss of sensation or strength should be brought to the attention of a doctor.

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Muscle Strain

A muscle strain may occur with any quick, awkward movement when muscles are not prepared for it. Whiplash from an automobile accident or sports injury is a common way to acquire a muscle strain. In this type of injury, the muscle can be torn or ruptured, causing pain, inflammation and swelling. It should be treated with ice, ibuprofen and gentle stretching in the first 72 hours. Specific exercises will likely be required to rehabilitate the muscles that have been injured and ensure that chronic problems do not develop.

Poor Posture

Many Americans spend a majority of their days hunched over a computer or desk without paying any attention to posture. Weak posture can cause a tremendous amount of excessive stress on ligaments, joint surfaces and on the muscles that are required to hold the head up. Over time, the muscles will develop trigger points, become weak and tight and lose flexibility. This all leads to pain and breakdown.


Pain in the neck can often be related to osteoarthritis, which is a wear-and-tear breakdown of the spinal structures. Bony outgrowths called osteophytes or bone spurs can put pressure on nerves or other soft tissues, causing local or radiating pain. Osteoarthritis can often be prevented by maintaining a strong, healthy spine.

Herniated Disc

A disc herniation occurs commonly in the cervical spine because of the intense amount of motion and stress it carries. When a disc is pushed outside the normal confines, it can cause inflammatory irritation to sensitive nerve roots or put direct pressure on the nerve. Either scenario will cause local or radiating pain.


When pain in the neck and back of the head are persistent and do not respond to conservative care, a tumor must be ruled out. Tumors can develop within the bones of the cervical spine and cause a variety of painful symptoms.

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