Headache on top of head: Causes and treatment

headache on top of head A headache on top of the head is called vertex pain, and if you have ever experienced it, you know that it can be a strange feeling. In some cases, it can seem as if a weight is sitting on top of your skull.

A headache on top of the head is rather unique, since there are only a couple of muscles that actually refer to pain on the top of the head. Certain neck and upper back muscles can tense or become injured, causing pain, but there are other potential causes for a throbbing headache on top of the head.

What causes headache on top of your head?


Often times, we know exactly why we have a headache. Perhaps we have gone too long without eating or are dehydrated, or maybe we’ve been grinding our teeth in our sleep. There are, however, various causes of headaches on top of the head.

  • Migraine – About 20 percent of people who suffer from migraines report it as a headache on top of the head.
  • Tension – For some reason, headache pain on top of the head is common in children, especially boys. Some people describe it as pressure, while others call it weight on their heads. Close to 40 percent of people complain about a tension headache in any given year. Tension headaches range from mild to moderate.
  • Chronic – Approximately 32 percent of people report that they experience daily headaches on top of the head. Chronic headaches impact about four to five percent of adults. Most people who suffer from chronic headaches experience a mix of migraines and tension headaches.
  • Idiopathic stabbing – Sudden, sharp stabbing pain on the top of the head can be alarming, but it’s usually not dangerous. This sharp pain is brief and doesn’t require medication.
  • Cold-stimulus – Most of us have experienced a brain freeze. Some people with migraines get this sensation without consuming anything cold.
  • Cervicogenic – This is believed to be a headache that originates in the cervical spine. Most often, this type of headache is on one side only.
  • Provoked – This type of headache on the top of the head is usually due to low pressure inside the head or pain in the head brought on by exertion.
  • Hyptic – Although not a lot is known about this type of headache on top of the head, it can also be considered provoked because what we do know is that it is brought on by sleep. People with this type of headache usually wake up at the same time every night with the pain on top of the head.
  • Cardiac cephalalgia – This is a headache that is related to heart disease.
  • Sexual activity – There are two types of headaches connected to sexual activity. The first is a slow build up headache as sexual excitement builds and the other is a sudden explosive headache, sometimes referred to as “thunderclap.” Most sudden or orgasmic headaches are due to vasoconstriction syndrome.
  • Bath thunderclap – This is a sudden headache brought on by immersion in hot water. Like orgasmic headaches, this can be the result of vasoconstriction.
  • Acoustic neuroma surgery – An operation to remove a rare benign tumor that is called acoustic neuroma can lead to a headache. About 34 percent of patients report headache on top of their head.
  • Sleep deprivation – When people don’t get enough rest and deprive themselves of sleep, it can lead to a headache on top of the head.
  • Ponytail – About 10 percent of women who tie their hair in a ponytail will experience pain on top of their heads. This is due to traction from the ponytail.
  • Cluster – While this type of headache is usually in or around the eye area, there have been situations where the pain has been concentrated on top of the head.
  • Whiplash – Headaches due to whiplash can be located in various areas, including the top of the head. Generally, trauma to a facet joint of the cervical spine should be to one side.
  • Unprovoked – These are headaches that are not triggered by a physical stimulus or environmental factor. They are usually isolated cases, so they’re classified as “rare.”

How to relieve headache on top of the head

The symptoms associated with a headache on top of the head usually include irritated eyes or tearing. The pain a sufferer normally experiences can be constant and generate from the sides of the head or back of the neck. Since so many people attribute their headaches to stress, muscle relaxants are sometimes helpful. However, not everyone wants to use medications. This is where massage can come in. Below you will find some self-massage techniques for specific headache pain.

  • Massage of the sternocleidomastoid – Place your fingers on the top of your sternum and try to feel the tendon of the sternocleidomastoid, which is the thick muscle on the side of your neck. Move about two centimeters higher and feel the actual muscle in between your fingers. Follow it along its entire length to the back of the head, apply pressure on the muscle, and roll it between your fingers. You should also press on the muscle and move your head in all possible directions. As you do this each day, the muscle tension and pain should lessen.
  • Massage of splenius capitis – This muscle sits at the back of your neck and can be a bit harder to locate. With precise massage strokes, begin just beyond the pain point and carry out slow strokes. You can also press into the muscle and make a few slow strokes. Some people use a wand called a “trigger fairy” instead of their fingers. You can place the head of the fairy on the muscle right next to the cervical spine and press into the muscle.
  • Palpate splenius capitis – With this technique, you can place one finger on top of your sternocleidomastoid on the back of your head, rotate your head slowly to the opposite side, and slide your finger about one centimeter in the direction of the cervical spine until you feel a small hollow. You then can rotate your head back in the other direction and feel the muscle tense under your fingers. This is the splenius capitis. Follow it a few centimeters downward and when you lower your chin to your chest, you will feel excess tension in the muscle. Focus on massaging that area, but if your hands are not strong enough, take breaks frequently.

Some people find that getting rid of toxins reduces the number of headaches they get. Toxins are often found in the foods we eat, especially food items we grab on the run. Changing your eating habits and getting adequate rest and exercise are good ways to help. Foods such as apples and lemons as well as herbs like cinnamon are said to be good for headaches. Another way to cope is through meditation. When you lie down, close your eyes and try to focus attention on the pain. Rather than fighting the pain, accept it. This approach may require some coaching from someone who is well versed in meditation techniques.

Related: Essential oils for migraines and headaches



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