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Why am I feeling neck pain at the base of my skull?

Neck Pain
3 minutes, 36 seconds

Neck pain is one of the most common types of pain among American adults. In fact, about 6% of women and 4% of men are dealing with neck pain on a daily basis. 

If you’re experiencing neck pain at the base of your skull, you could be experiencing symptoms of a variety of conditions. Determining the cause of your neck pain is the first step toward treating it. 

Many people want to treat neck pain at the base of their skull immediately, especially since it can trigger painful headaches. You should seek medical attention right away if your neck pain started after a traumatic injury, or if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Pain that worsens over time.
  • Pain that radiates down your arms or legs.
  • Migraine.
  • Numbness or tingling.
  • Fever.

Whether your pain is sharp or dull, a physical therapist can help you learn what could be causing your neck pain and can offer effective treatment.

4 common causes of neck pain at the base of the skull

The base of the skull is where your cervical spine connects to your head. This area involves a complicated network of important nerves. It also includes joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles that make it possible for you to turn and rotate your head comfortably. The base of the skull is especially important because of its proximity to the brain. Therefore, pain in this area should be taken seriously. 

There are many reasons why you may be feeling neck pain at the base of your skull. You may be feeling symptoms related to conditions like: 

  1. Suboccipital muscle inflammation— The suboccipital muscles are a group of four neck muscles that run between the neck and skull. Their job is to help extend and rotate the head. Poor posture, like hunching over a desk, can lead to tension and pain in these muscles and irritate the base of the skull. Physical therapy can help correct your posture and massage your tight muscles so that they release tension and help you decrease your pain.
  2. Herniated cervical disc — Each of the seven cervical vertebrae has a disc that cushions it. These discs are named C1 through C7. A herniated cervical disc between C1 and C2 can trigger pain that feels like it’s right at the base of your skull. If you are diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to help you regain mobility.
  3. Occipital neuralgia — This issue occurs when one of your occipital nerves is pinched, irritated or damaged. Occipital neuralgia tends to cause throbbing, sharp or electriclike pain where your neck meets your skull. The pain may also radiate into one side of your scalp. Physical therapy can help release the tissue pinching your nerve so that you can get relief.
  4. Rheumatoid or osteoarthritis — Arthritis is an extremely common condition among adults and can occur when the cartilage between joints degrades over time. This degradation can cause the bones in the joint to rub together during movement and lead to both sharp and dull pain. Interestingly, arthritis often occurs in the C1 and C2 vertebrae. As a result, the neck pain you feel at the base of your skull could be due to arthritis-related inflammation. 

How can physical therapists treat neck pain at the base of your skull?

While ice packs and pain medicine can help limit your pain throughout the day, they don’t necessarily treat the underlying cause of your neck pain. Physical therapists can evaluate your mobility and neck strength to treat the root of the problem. 

Physical therapists are well versed in treating musculoskeletal injuries like upper neck pain. They have access to many techniques, resources and educational materials to help you quickly recover from neck pain at the base of your skull.

A few of the techniques your therapist may use to address your pain can include: 

Alliance PTP can connect you with top-notch PT for neck pain

Ready to treat the underlying cause of neck pain at the base of your skull? At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address your neck pain.

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Contact our team today so we can help you find the most effective physical therapy services for your neck. 

*Note: This article is a revision of one originally posted by Alliance Physical Therapy partner SOL PT.

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