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Neck Pain at Base of Skull: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Cellaxys

By Published: November 2, 2022No Comments

Neck pain is a common condition in America, affecting about 30% of the population. Many factors can cause intense neck pain at base of skull, including the use of electronic devices, nerve tension, disc injury, facet joint injury, ligament injury, etc. 

The neck is a delicate and functional part of our body, responsible for providing movements. Any type of pain in the neck can disturb your day-to-day movements, leading to unusual headaches, dizziness, and pain in the back of the eyes. 

Determining the exact point and reason for the neck pain at base of skull is the first step in treating it. While physical therapy works, orthobiologic treatments can also help relieve neck pain. 

Anatomy of the Skull

The skull consists of complex tendons, muscles, nerves, and ligaments. The structure also involves the facet joints and the upper cervical spine. Irritation of these components can cause neck pain at the base of the skull. The symptoms may also include other types of pain in the neck and skull region. 

Symptoms of Neck Pain at Base of Skull 

Many people tend to ignore the common symptoms of neck pain at base of skull and relate them to other health conditions. Look for these signs to identify that you may have neck pain associated with the skull base:

  • Headaches
  • Bruised feeling at the back of the head
  • Pain behind eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling heavy-headed
  • Neck stiffness
  • Extreme tension at base of skull

Causes of Neck Pain at Base of Skull

Causes of Neck Pain at Base of Skull

Many mild and severe factors can cause neck pain at your skull base. These include:

Muscle Strain

Our skull has a group of suboccipital muscles at the base. These are four paired muscles attached to the two cervical bones located on the upper side of the skull. These muscles can become strained and tensed due to various factors, including:

  • Maintaining a poor posture at the workstation
  • Wearing eyeglasses
  • Eye strain
  • Trauma
  • Insufficient ergonomics in the workplace

All these factors can result in severe neck pain at base of skull.

Facet Joint Injury

A facet is a small joint located in the back area of the spine. It is lined with cartilage and is present as a paired joint on the right and left at each spine level. Simply put, you have a right facet joint named C2/3 and a left joint called C3/4, and continue. 

This joint takes care of your spine’s movement, but unfortunately, it is susceptible to multiple injuries caused due to trauma, degeneration, and instability. The facet joint injury can cause chronic neck pain at base of skull. 

Disc Injury

Discs protect our spinal bones from sudden shocks. They are sandwiched between every bone and absorb shock and trauma. But they are also susceptible to numerous injuries to the spine caused due to trauma, surgery, infection, degeneration, and instability. 

Disc injuries can limit your motion, cause inflammation, and severe neck pain at base of skull. 

Ligament Injury

Ligaments keep all the bones in our body connected for maximum stability. They are thick connective tissues present throughout the body, including the neck. Some of the ligaments in the neck include the interspinous and supra ligaments. These ligaments can be affected from traumas, particularly motor vehicle accidents. 

Some connective tissue disorders, such as hypermobility or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, can also damage ligaments. Loose ligaments can result in irritation in the suboccipital muscles, nerves, facet joints, and discs, leading to severe neck pain at base of skull. 

Nerve Irritation

The upper cervical area of our skull consists of occipital nerves that travel to the skull’s base. The ligaments, fascia, and neck muscles can sometimes compress these nerves. As a result, you may feel various symptoms, including headache, pain behind the eye, and severe neck pain at the skull’s base.  

Conservative Treatments for Neck Pain at Base of Skull

The right treatment for neck pain depends upon its underlying cause. Mild pains can easily be treated through the first-line, conservative methods. Depending on your condition, your doctor may suggest you the following things:

  • Practice Meditation or Yoga. Practicing yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation can help you release considerable tension from your head, thereby treating headaches and heaviness. 
  • Follow a Good Lifestyle. Sleeping for 8 hours, avoiding smoking, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet are the key to following a good lifestyle. It keeps your head clear and free from stress, releasing pressure from your neck and skull base. 
  • Maintain Your Eye Level With the PC. When working, ensure that you aren’t bending over or leaning forward from your seat to reach the PC screen. Keep your knees at a 90 degree from the hips, your back straight, and your elbows on the table to avoid muscle tension. 
  • Follow Ice/Heat Therapy. If you feel inflammation on your neck and base of skull, placing an ice or heat pack may help relieve pain. The heating pad may work more effectively for neck pain as it lets the blood vessels expand and enhance the blood flow to the neck. This reduces muscle stiffness. Remember to never use an ice/heat pack directly on your skin and for more than 20 minutes.
  • Massage Your Neck. Try putting gentle pressure on your skull base and neck with your fingers. This massage helps relieve tension and strengthen your muscles. You can also release the pressure on your neck by placing a folded towel under your neck and head while lying down. You can also do chin tucks regularly to tighten your shoulder muscles. 

Regenerative Methods for Neck Pain at Base of Skull

Nowadays, we have multiple quick, less invasive, and less painful methods to treat neck pain at base of skull. The two most common ones include platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy and cell-based or stem cell therapies.  

Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy

In the PRP process performed at CELLAXYS, we isolate platelets from your blood plasma, concentrate them, and then reinject them into the base of skull. Platelets serve as the first line of defense against injuries. 

These healing components perform three crucial functions: producing 10 Growth Factors, attracting healing cells from the blood, and creating a web-like scaffolding called fibrin. All these functions promote quick recovery and healing in the injury site.

PRP is performed within 45 minutes, and the doctor may allow you to go home after the procedure. 

Cell-based Therapies

Also popular as stem cell therapies, cell-based therapies extracts your “autologous” or own tissues, process them, and reinject them into the base of your skull. Depending on your situation, we opt for one of the two types of cell-based therapies:

  • Minimally Manipulated Adipose Tissue Transplant (MMAT). It is when the doctor takes healthy cells from your adipose (fat) tissue. MMAT can be performed at multiple locations in the same procedure.

Both cell-based therapies take about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete, and you may go home soon. The doctor uses live X-rays and ultrasounds to identify the injury site and boost its recovery.

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Director of Regenerative Interventional Spine Medicine
Board certification in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Medicine
Fellowship-trained from Harvard University
UCLA Alumni


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