While most minor headaches are located in the front and sides of the head, occipital headaches can also occur. These headaches refer to those near the occipital bone, which is located at the back of the head. Many times, headaches are caused by muscle contractions, tension or stress, heavy backpacks, or hormonal fluctuations. Here are three unusual reasons for occipital head pain and what you can do about them:
Eating Nightshade Foods
Certain foods such as eggplant, green peppers, and tomatoes are in a class of foods known as nightshades. While nutrient-dense and healthy, these foods contain chemicals in their skins that can lead to a systemic inflammatory response.
They can also promote the release of chemicals known as cytokines, and when abundant in the bloodstream, cytokines can lead to muscle, joint, and nerve inflammation. If you enjoy eating nightshade foods but experience head pain as a result, try cooking them, as this reduces the amount of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the pigmented skin of the vegetable.
Irritated Occipital Nerve
One of the cranial nerves, known as the occipital nerve, can become inflamed as a result of viral infections or injury. In addition to pain in the back of your head, occipital nerve irritation can lead to numbness and tingling sensations in your head and neck, limited mobility, referred pain to the shoulders and arms, and eye pain.
If your irritated occipital nerve is the result of an infection, your symptoms will probably subside once the infection has cleared your body. In the meantime, taking a multivitamin that contains vitamin B6 might help ease your discomfort because this nutrient helps support nerve health.
If your occipital nerve becomes entrapped or pinched as a result of an injury or tight muscles, you might experience severe throbbing pain in the back of your head. You may also have problems with your vision and scalp irritation.
Degenerative conditions such as arthritis can also lead to nerve entrapment, and while existing arthritic damage cannot be reversed, there are things you can do to prevent future damage. Getting enough exercise, eating foods rich in vitamin D and calcium, avoiding smoking, and limiting your caffeine intake can help stave off further arthritic changes, which may also help reduce your risk for occipital nerve entrapment.
If your nerve does become entrapped, taking an anti-inflammatory medication might help ease your symptoms, as might making an appointment with your chiropractor for a head treatment or neck treatment.
If you develop pain in the back of your head as a result of any of the above conditions, work with both your primary care doctor and your chiropractic physician to develop a plan of care to treat the underlying cause effectively.