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What Are the Causes of Neck Pain at Base of Skull?

By Sally Wenczel ; Updated July 27, 2017

Neck pain at the base of the skull is common among humans. The exact cause of the pain varies, as do preventative measures and pain relief treatments.

Base of skull bone

Located at the base of the skull is the occipital bone. Neck muscles attach to the occipital bone at the bony landmark called the external occipital protuberance.

Joint anatomy at skull base

The C1 cervical vertebra (atlas) and the C2 cervical vertebra (axis) are situated just below the occipital bone. The atlas and axis form the joint connecting the skull and spine and are responsible for the rotation and nodding movements of the head.

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Muscle anatomy at skull base

Pain commonly occurs at or near muscle attachment sites on bone. The muscles that may cause pain at the base of the skull are the upper trapezius (which attaches at the external occipital protuberance) and the levator scapula (which attaches at the atlas and axis).

Muscle knots

Tasks in the modern industrial world often call for the head to tilt forward to perform: driving, computer work, preparing food. Over time the weight of the head--which averages about 12 to 15 pounds--in combination with excessive use and tightening of muscles in the front of the neck and across the chest will cause the muscles at the base of the skull to toughen and form "knots" as a response to the tension that is created by the structural imbalance.

Knots equal pain

Muscle knots occur when muscle fibers stick together and lose their flexibility and fluidity. Knots at the base of the skull cause nerve compression, signaling pain or a minor-malfunction-in-the-body alert to the brain.

Prevntion and care

Practicing proper posture and stretching the muscles in the chest and front of the neck helps to prevent head drop and pain at the base of the skull. Massage therapy often helps to alleviate pain and revitalize the muscle tissue if pain persists.

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