The pressure at the back of my Head
What does pressure at the back of your head mean?
“Why do I have pressure at the back of my head?”
The pressure at the back of your head may be a sign of a mechanical blockage at the base of your skull involving your C1 or atlas vertebra.
If you are like most people dealing with pressure at the back of your head, you’ve likely been dealing with it for a while.
- Maybe you didn’t think it was that bad.
- Maybe you thought it would go away on its own (eventually).
- Maybe you have tried different therapies, but the problem keeps coming back.
You’ve probably been told that it’s a tension headache caused by tight muscles. Maybe you’ve even had a few x-ray, CT, or MRI scans if the pain at the back of your head has been bad enough. Besides a bit of wear-and-tear, however, odds are that you’re testing have all come back as being normal.
In other words, no one can tell you exactly what is causing the pain in the back of your head.
And while it may not be life-threatening, it can certainly be life-debilitating. Or at the very least frustrating.
So if you are the type of person who is doing all the right things - you take care of your body, you exercise, you rest, you try not to stress about things too much - but you still experience pressure at the base of your head, you may be wondering what else do I need to do?
Well, let me ask you: when is the last time anyone checked the alignment of the top vertebra in your neck?
“How can C1 cause pressure at the back of my head?”
A misalignment fo the top vertebra in your neck may cause pressure at the back of your head in two different ways.
The first is muscle tension.
The top vertebra in your neck - aka the atlas or C1 vertebra - is completely different from everywhere else in your spine. Foremost, the bone is not anchored by a disc. Instead, it is suspended by muscles and ligaments, which allows for huge amounts of flexibility.
The exchange is that your atlas is also most susceptible to injury. If you experience a head neck or whiplash injury that causes the C1 to shift even a few millimeters, if your body is not able to self-correct the problem, it can create tension on those exact same muscles and ligaments.
The reason that matters is that where your head goes, your body goes! And if your atlas is NOT able to support the normal center of gravity of your head (3-5Kg), then that tension can be transferred into all the other muscles through your neck, back, and ultimately entirely body!
So, when people remark that they “have tight muscles and bad posture,” it has been my experience that the tight muscles and posture problems are actually the results of a spinal imbalance often involving an injury to the upper neck.
Your back and neck and comprised of four layers of muscles that all anchor into the base of your skull.
Think of it as a bunch of anchor points all along the back of your head. So if your C1 is not properly aligned, and if that is the cause of the muscle tension in your neck and shoulders, that same tension will be transferred into your head.
The end result is a sensation of pressure at the back of your head.
The hallmark sign that this may be the cause of the pressure at the back of your head is that if you have a head or scalp massage, the discomfort eases very quickly … but then comes back again as soon as you start working or standing again.
And the reason may well be that the muscle massage is simply treating the symptoms without addressing the cause, which could well be the C1 misalignment.
“Can a C1 misalignment and the pressure at the back of my head be a blood flow problem?”
The second way that an atlas misalignment may cause pressure at the back of your head is due to an interruption in normal blood drainage in the veins around the bottom of your skull.
At the junction between your skull and your spine is a mega-spiderweb array of veins known as the suboccipital venous plexus. These arrangements of veins drain blood from the back of your skull, the top of your neck, and also from the base of your brain via a pair of veins known as cerebrospinal veins.
The cerebrospinal veins drain blood through the C1 vertebra itself and then base down through the rest of your neck. The C1 vertebra therefore may represent a potential choke-point for blood flow from the brain.
Now, your body is not so fragile that the entire lot is diminished: that would be very dangerous. Just to illustrate, however, imagine that 99% of the blood flow was draining properly. Because blood flow is continuous, the non-draining amount - the 1%, as small as it is - would eventually begin to back-log to accumulate, like a sink with a partial blockage.
The resulting swelling into the surrounding veins could then produce pressure at the back of the head!
The hallmark sign that this may be the cause of the pressure at the back of your head is that the pressure dissipates when you lie down on your back. When you like down, your brain can use accessory channels to drain the back-up pressure that accumulates when you are upright.
However, over a period of time when you are sitting or standing, again the pressure in the back of your head slowly starts coming back over the day.
“Why does all my pressure at the back of my head tests come back as ‘normal?’”
There is a difference between a) dangerous conditions like torn muscles and obstructed blood vessels and b) dysfunctional conditions like a misaligned vertebra.
It is all about perspective.
From one viewpoint, unless things are big enough to cause severe enough damage, minor things are considered to be essentially “normal.” And so all the reports come back as saying so.
From another viewpoint, however, is the recognition that even small things can have a significant knock-on effect in the body and deserve consideration.
When it comes to muscle tension, blood flow changes, and a misaligned C1 vertebra potentially creating pressure at the back of your head, these disruptions are measured in millimeters.
As small as that may sound, consider the last time you had a pebble in your shoe. Or a splinter in your finger. Or even something as small a grain of dust in your eye.
These things, however small, can produce extraordinarily uncomfortable problems! So, we must always be careful not to dismiss things simply because they are small.
In the same breath, it means that to discover a problem such as a misaligned vertebra requires exceptional attention to detail and specific tests.
It is one thing to have standard x-rays, CTs or MRIs, which look for signs of pathology from standard angles.
However, you are a unique three-dimensional being. Your body is built differently from everyone else! Therefore, in order to truly understand what is abnormal with the misalignment of your atlas, we need to measure first was your normal is!
Blair atlas alignment - A different approach for pressure at the back of the head
When it comes to atlas health and neck health, the leaders in healthcare are what is known as a Blair upper cervical doctor.
A Blair upper cervical doctor is a specialized type of chiropractor, who has completed advanced certifications in the relationship between the alignment of the top bones in your neck - the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) - and your nerve system.
Your nerve system is the master control and coordination system for everything in your body. Therefore, the pressure at the back of your head may not simply be an annoyance. It could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition affecting your overall health.
What makes a Blair chiropractic doctor so different from a general chiropractor is the level of personalized detail that goes into the procedure.
Foremost are a series of physical, neurological, and diagnostic tests that help show the exact direction and degree of any misalignments in your neck.
From here, we are able to design a specific correction made just for you - like a custom-made key - that helps to restore the normal alignment and motion through your atlas with the least amount of intervention.
Unlike general spinal manipulation, there is no twisting or cracking the neck with a Blair upper cervical correction. The procedure is designed to be as precise as possible with the least amount of risk for the greatest possible positive outcome.
What we find is that by correcting the atlas, thereby reducing the tension through the muscles and restoring the normal blood flow that many people who have been struggling with pressure in the back of the head finally experience the relief that they have been looking for but have not found through other methods.
How can we help your pressure in the back of your head?
Atlas Health is the leader of Blair upper cervical chiropractic care in Australia.
We believe in the innate potential for every human being to lead an extraordinary life. Our practice is dedicated to helping people who have been dealing with challenging health issues to rediscover hope, healing, and discover long term solutions so that they can enjoy the quality of life that they desire most.
So, how can we help you?
Our practice located in North Brisbane is happy to offer a complimentary 15-minute over-the-phone consultation with your resident upper cervical chiropractic doctor where you can discuss the particular aspects of the pressure in the back of your head and ask any questions you may have so that you can decide if care is right for you.
This is a personal phone call with our principal upper cervical chiropractor, Dr. Jeffrey Hannah
Dr. Hannah is an advanced board certified Blair upper cervical chiropractor. He is an international teacher, lecturer, author, and recognized leader in the field of upper cervical care.
To schedule a no-obligation consultation with Dr. Hannah, you can contact our office at 07 3188 9329. Alternatively, you can fill out the Contact Us link on this page, and one of our staff will return your message as soon as possible.
It is our privilege to have your trust with your health, and we look forward to helping you to the best of our abilities.
Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing, and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out."
Aprill C, Axinn MJ, Bogduk N. Occipital headaches stemming from the lateral atlanto-axial (C1-C2) joint. Cephalgia. 2002;22(1):15-22.
Bovim G, Sand T. Cervicogenic headache, migraine without aura and tension-type headache: diagnostic blockage of greater occipital and supra-orbital nerves. Pain. 1992;51(1):43-8.
Braaf MM, Rosner S. Trauma of the cervical spine as a cause of chronic headache. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. May 1975;15(5):441-446).
Burgos-Vega C, Moy J, and Dussor G. Meningeal afferent signaling and the pathophysiology of migraine. Prog Mol Biol Transl Sci. 2015;131:537-64. doi: 10.1016/bs.pmbts.2015.01.001. Epub 2015 Feb 9.
Domínguez Salgado M, Santiago Gómez R, Campos Castelló J, Fernández de Péres Villalaín MJ.. An Esp Pediatr. 2002 Nov;57(5):432-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12467547
Gaul C, Meßlinger K, Holle-Lee D, Neeb L. . . Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2017 Mar;142(6):402-408. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-111694. Epub 2017 Mar 22.
Lewis DW. Headaches in children and adolescents. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Feb 15;65(4):625-32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11871680
Millstine D, Chen CY, Bauer B. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ. 2017 May 16;357:j1805. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j1805. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28512119
Mingels S, Dankaerts W, Granitzer M. Is There Support for the Paradigm 'Spinal Posture as a Trigger for Episodic Headache'? A Comprehensive Review. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019 Mar 4;23(3):17. doi: 10.1007/s11916-019-0756-2.
Olivier B, Pramod A, Maleka D. Trigger Point Sensitivity Is a Differentiating Factor between Cervicogenic and Non-Cervicogenic Headaches: A Cross-Sectional, Descriptive Study. Physiother Can. 2018 Fall;70(4):323-329. doi: 10.3138/ptc.2017-38.
Taylor DN. A theoretical basis for the maintenance of spinal manipulative therapy for the chiropractic profession. J of Chiropr Humanities (2011) 18, 74–85.
Teng CC, Chai H, Lai DM, Wang SF. Cervicocephalic kinesthetic sensibility in young and middle-aged adults with or without a history of mild neck pain. Man Ther. 2007 Feb;12(1):22-8. Epub 2006 Jun 14.
Viana M, Sances G, Terrazzino S, et al. When cervical pain is actually migraine: an observational study in 207 patients. Cephalalgia. First Published December 7, 2016: https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102416683917.
Whittingham W, Ellis WB, Molyneux TP. The effect of manipulation (toggle recoil technique) for headaches with upper cervical joint dysfunction: a pilot study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1994;17(6):369-75.