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Painful Pressure in the Back of the Head


My boyfriend has anxiety disorder, and for the last few months, he has been having pressure in the back of his head. He says it feels like his head is being squeezed in a vice, or a tightly wrapped bandage on his head. It makes his anxiety much worse, and he always feels like going to the ER for this. He has been there 2 times last month in the same week for this, and the doctors have done numerous tests on him, and everything came out fine. What can this be, and how can he get rid of this?

Stephanie from Paterson, NJ



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By lalala... 731 97 02/14/2008 Flag

Having experienced the identical problem, and going through every test in the book, I finally found a doctor that could explain the issue. They are tension headaches! The worst thing for a person with anxiety issues to have because the added anxiety from the headaches actually makes the headaches worse! I have found lots of great suggestions to relieve the pain of these headaches on the internet! Although it was definitely a trial and error situation! I hope he is able to get them under control...they are really terrible and debilitating!

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By Candy 1 49 02/14/2008 Flag

One thing to try is breath in through your mouth and out your nose for 5 minutes. I think it helps because you have to think about it and it helps you relax and take your mind off your pounding head.

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By Stephanie G. 2 2 02/14/2008 Flag

Thank you both very much. He feels slightly better today, but still has a headache. He is going for an MRI saturday morning just so he can see he has no tumors or anything else serious. His nose is clogged so its hard for him to breathe through his nose. I will keep you posted about the treatment he will get. Hope it helps.

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By Keeper 58 1,055 02/15/2008 Flag

Stress,Tension,Depression is a vicious circle.Having taught Stress Mngt.classes,the breathing technique is;a large inhale thru the nose than slowly out the mouth.Soaking in a very warm bath and 2 of the best things to do are;stretching everything you can,this is a tension reliever the other is massaging the shoulders&scalp! Recently I had a CAT scan&MRI w/contrast.Wait for his test results and then he might be able to apply the breathing exercise which greatly improves the"circle"

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By Linda (Guest Post) 02/15/2008 Flag

Sounds like a panic attack.

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By Brenda 25 63 02/15/2008 Flag

Steph - Altho you may be right abt this being anxiety related, and not to add to his or your anxiety, there is a condition called Chiari I malformation that can cause the symptoms you describe, including chronic anxiety as a related symptom. What this means is that the hole at the base of the skull thru which the spinal cord enters/exits the skull is too small and leads to symptoms like headache, a vise like feeling, and so forth. It can be difficult to diagnosis. I know this because I had a sister w/this problem, and she went undiagnosed for years, despite this being a congenital malformation. I would recommend an appt w/a neurologist or neurosurgeon to rule out this, or any of a number of other causes of his headaches, including migrane. Good luck to you both.

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By Gina Johnston 14 88 02/15/2008 Flag

Ok, I know that it's wise to have the tests to make sure that nothing more serious is wrong. But once you've exhausted that route--try a consultation with a good chiropractor. I had horrid headaches because I had a pinched nerve in my neck.. Chiropractic adjustment cures it. I was actually blacking out from the headaches before. I know most MD's aren't impressed by chiropractics, but I am because I know that it works--and I'm not impressed by toxic, expensive prescription drugs!

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By Sheyl (Guest Post) 02/15/2008 Flag

Does he wear a baseball hat all the time? My hubby always had headaches, until he figured out that his baseball hat was pressing on his head causing daily headaches.

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By denise w (Guest Post) 02/15/2008 Flag

I too have suffered with both depression and both back and neck injuries. I went to stress management classes and agree that this does work. I also do an exercise that was taught to me from the drs office; stand at the counter with feet apart and lean into right hip, hold for 10 seconds, now stand straight, and then move into the other hip hold for 10 seconds. I do these 10 times each and then I stand straight lift my arms up and slowly release to the floor until my hands touch it. I also do this 10 times. It works really well to relieve stress and realigns my spine, which makes the headache go away. I hope this helps.

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By siris (Guest Post) 02/15/2008 Flag

I know the feeling. For me it was bites by sand flies at the lake. They were attracted to my shampoo, I think. Can this be his problem?

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By Carol in PA (Guest Post) 02/16/2008 Flag

After ruling out the malformation described in a previous response to your post, I suggest theraputic massage. Massage was used in Russia when they didnt have enough doctors. It was used to treat everything.

I had severe anxiety and depression. I found that deep theraputic massage done by a licensed therapist helped tremendously. It helps ease the anxiety as well. I had mine done at a chiropractor's office by a massage therapist he had employed there. Imho, some chiropracters are quacks... rofl... But I had the adjustments and the massage. I followed his recommendations. I truly believe it helped in combination with medications and talk therapy from a psychologist. The power of human touch is tremendous.

Also, humans seem to accumulate a lot of tense muscles in the neck area. Mine seems to get bad at the base of my skull. Anything that will lengthen and stretch those muscles will help. Perhaps he would consider Tai Chi or yoga. Maybe you can try massaging his neck yourself to see if it helps him or eases his pain.

Your boyfriend needs to see an allergist about the stuffy nose problems he has. Thats not normal. It will affect his sleep. Deep restorative sleep is essential to solving emotional problems (and physical problems as well). You will find he may have sleep apnea which is a sleep disturbance. This will effect all of his emotions from lack of proper sleep. Our emotions in turn effect us physically.

I have a friend whose daughter was treated by several different types of specialists for her severe headaches. These specialists all focused on her head. None of them xrayed her neck. She was on a lot of prescribed pain medication. Her mother decided to take her to a chiropractor who xrayed her neck. Her neck was VERY CROOKEDly formed. Once he straightened her neck, the headaches went away for the most part. She still needed the allergy meds for her sinuses, but once the problem was removed the symptoms went away.

Best of luck with this problem. Keep trying until you find the cause of the problem so you can treat it. Dont just treat the symptom. (smile)

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By Diana (Guest Post) 02/16/2008 Flag

Could it be a migraine headache? See a neurologist

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By Jenny 1 27 02/16/2008 Flag

Stephanie, I've had the same problem w/ tension headaches & migraines for about 15 years. One thing that works for me for that neck/shoulder pain is moist heat. It helps to relax those tense muscles, which are in a spasm, which is the cause of the tension headaches. I found a heating pack that I can put in the microwave the gives moist heat for 20-30 minutes. It really helps to relax the muscles. As another post mentioned, it really is a matter of trial & error, finding what method will work best.

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By Jane-000 (Guest Post) 02/16/2008 Flag

I suffer from cronic anxiety and am disabled from it. I found a relaxation tape played daily helped me a lot from my pains in my head. I also have cronic allergies and they could be sinus pressure. Try to find a good relaxation tape I received mine when my husband was a cancer patient and this tape was in his bag it's the best yet. Though they don't make it anymore. Also I would bring it up with the doctor who gives you your meds. I may be a side effect of the medicine. I hope he can find out what is causing them and can control them with the extra anxiety added on it surely make things much worse then normal.
God Bless,

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By Lynda (Guest Post) 02/16/2008 Flag

I'd suggest that it is either: EXTERNAL, such as a bad pillow; bad habit of using a sofa arm while watching TV; sitting in one of those so-called "recliners" with the OVERSTUFFED HEADREST called "PILLOW" which misshapes one's spine, neck and causes permanent damage if not realized and stopped early in life; or sleeping in the same position or on same side on the mattress each night forgetting to change sides, flip mattress ea. six months; sleeping on a folded thick or two pillows at night. working in a fluorescent lighting environment; reading in poor light, needing glasses;

INTERNAL: allergies to milk, MSG ( a poisonous additive which causes brain tumors and adds NOTHING to improve taste of foods!); whey in foods, that cause sinus mucous, which is the GLUE part of whole milk, often non-organic milk, which also most often contains pesticide poisoning from the feed given to milk cows; something inhaled such as aerosols of any kind which have frequently deadly formaldehyde; prepared foods which have things added that are not good for health, only good for mfgrs' profits; nitrates/nitrites/ calcium cassienate or
proprianate additives which are carcinogen and/or mucogenic to those with any milk intolerance; eating too many onions all of which contain Opium, or too much garlic; living with a smoker; drinking too much caffeine; eating too much sugar; not getting enough sleep; poor posture for long time causing curvature of spine;
reading slumped over a book for too long; dental
infections which have entered the nervous system or lining of the brain; lack of B Complex, Multi-vits/minerals causing a sensitive nervous system; watching TV or eating while reclining as a habit.

I've gone the gammut with one problem solved after another by thinking about these things. Hope this helps. God bless, help and give you wisdom. : )

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By sandy 77 431 02/16/2008 Flag

I highly recommend having a family doctor examine him and then encourage that dr to order tests until the problem is solved.

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By Stephanie G. 2 2 02/16/2008 Flag

Ok, well thanks to everyone who put their two cents in, and most of those suggestions were already ruled out. I actually help massage his neck and shoulders daily, and sometimes it helps a little, sometimes it doesn't. He also has an appointment for a sleep study for sleep apnea on march 9th, so I will let you all know how that goes.

I came across something interesting on the internet today. I found a website which is:
and it has a few things to say about headaches, anxiety related issues, as well as quite a few others. I found it rather relaxing, and it actually helped for a while today. Take a look at it, try what it suggests, and let me know your outcomes.
He does go to a chiropractor, but hasn't been there since last friday, Feb. 8th. I will take him again monday morning. Thanks again.

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By dar (Guest Post) 02/17/2008 Flag

Because he is feeling anxious he has a lot of muscles in the back of his neck that go under the skull also this is painful in its self, it is a place you can not get to,to massage and so neck and shoulder's tighten up and the muscles that go under the skull do so also.What happens now is he is favoring the part's that hurt and this is causing the other muscles to work harder to tighten and also become very painful.

Hopefully his Doctor will recommend some exercises for these muscles to stretch and strengthen them.This will help a lot( I know this believe me!). I hope the Doctor gives him a script for muscle relaxers to help for a short while.Also they have meds for his headaches that will help.But talk to the Doctor about exercises first. Moist heat is great. Hot bath's are esp great with nice relaxing music ( I know this! every month I grab a box and maybe a magazine and off we go for a HOT bath,it works). Also getting out and doing thing's he enjoys will help even a hobby at home, that he can do and take his mind off of other thing's.A massage is great even if it is only once a week.

I know they can be expensive but do you by any chance (if $$$ are short) have a Technical School nearby that has classes? These are great in that they are reasonable ($20.00) where I live. The girls have to have so many hour's in before they graduate and they really can give a good massage(I know this too!). Also Exedrin has aspirin for Migraines, tension, and extra strength back and body pill's that are really great if he is not allergic to aspirin. It would be something to help if he has nothing else to take while they are doing the test's. Also a good relaxer is a favorite snack a funny movie at home. That way you don't have to put up with a lot of distracting thing's at the theater that might give you a headache instead of relaxing you. I do not know how long he has had this problem but if there are other tender point's he could have Fybromyelgia but they are coming out with new med's everyday.

There are so many other thing's it could be and since I am not a Doctor and not writing a book I think I will go now. I will say a prayer and wish you all kinds of good luck. I know what headaches like those are like and it is NO Picnic as the saying goes. Best of luck dar

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By maggie Y. (Guest Post) 02/18/2008 Flag

I had someting just like this when I was in high school. The Doctor said it was a muscular headache. When you feel it coming on you have to take pain reliever and go in a dark place. It helps but you have to take pain medicine right away. Mine went away, hopefully this helps.

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By Janene 1 30 02/19/2008 Flag

I don't want to alarm anyone but I would encourage him to get tests on his blood counts to make sure his red blood cells are not too low. Most do not know that walking around with a severe low blood volume can create headaches and can be very dangerous. Also, by taking the antidepressant, Paxil, this can drop the red blood cells although unlikely. My husband had this problem.
God bless.

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By khilde 11 45 02/20/2008 Flag

I'd suggest finding a reputable chiropracter in your area. I used to get awful headaches where I felt lightheaded and I really couldn't even function (maybe they were migraines, who knows?). I resisted chiropracters because I never heard anything good about them, until my massage therapist suggested I see one in town. I went and it absolutely has changed my life. The chiropracter walked me through everything and explained how my headaches were being caused by my spine being slightly out of alignment. She's adjusted me and the headaches have 100% disappeared. I haven't changed anything else about my habits so I know it has been the chiropractic adjustments that have been the solution. I always figure that I'd try to rule out the easiest, simplest explanation for my aches and pains. I wish I had found a chiropracter sooner. Good luck.

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By (Guest Post) 02/21/2008 Flag

Thank you all very much. He hasn't been having too much pressure anymore, but its still there daily. Just not as much. Now his new symptom is chest pains. Annoying, short, sharp, shooting pains. He is trying to make himself relaxed, because his worrying is causing more anxiety. Thank you all for your suggestions, and help. I am so glad I found this forum! You are all like a breath of fresh air for me!

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By erica rasmussen 1 03/09/2008 Flag

I know someone mentioned Chiari Malfunction Type 1 and I think that also could be a possibiliby. Don't get too worried because there is a wide range of cases with this disorder. Many people go there whole life without knowing they have it. I actually was just diagnosed and I'm just starting to learn about it.
I can tell you, I used to get headaches in the back of my head that pounded and I couldn't turn my head or lie down. I finally went to an accupuncturist and right away I noticed the pain subside. I don't get those headaches anymore but I get other symptoms. I would say that you should have an MRI
of the neck and brain. go to a neurologist and if you have chiari malfunction type 1 go to a specialist. I've noticed not all neurologists are as familiar with it. good luck

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By Michelle (Guest Post) 08/12/2008 Flag

Tell him to eliminate all dairy for one week. I had this and have been suffering for two years. I found out after I had a big bowl of ice cream and the pain came almost instantly and so bad I wanted to go to the hospital. Then went to the allergy specialist and sure enough it is the milk. He should give it a try! I have been off dairy products for about 6 months and pressure is gone.

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By EC (Guest Post) 09/01/2008 Flag

How is the patient now? Any update?

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By EC. (Guest Post) 09/29/2008 Flag

There seems to be no further update by anyone else. For you who stumble upon this site with similar symptoms. Don't give up. I had unexplained headache at the back of my head for a long while but has since been better. I thought it was due to nerve problem as I have been seeing neurologist and psychiatrist for over a year. The last psychiatrist said I was suffering from anxiety/panic attack. I still have my doubt.

The improvement seems to have been made after I consulted a Chinese physician who prescribed Chinese herbal medicines and acupuncture and got twice a week massages for a few weeks and stopped my psychiatrist's medication. I still feel tired easily and have headache frequently. But I stop the Chinese physician treatment as it is costly.
My point here is: Don't give up, you may try a Chinese physician and massage (not recommended by my psychiatrist as he said it is a waste of money) if the treatment can relieve your pain. But be cautious who you are getting as their qualities vary significantly and lack the vigorous drug testing of the western world.

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By Carole F. (Guest Post) 12/22/2008 Flag

The pain travels from the back of the my head to behind my ears. I have been suffering with a chronic cough for 8 months which many times results in vomiting phlegm and horrible pains in my head. My doctor recommended Sudafed which has quieted the cough, however raised my blood pressure hence when the back of head-headaches started. I've stopped the Sudafed (1 day now) but the horrible pressure headache is still here. Does anyone relate this headache to sinus/ear problems or high blood pressure?

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By Dorene (Guest Post) 02/20/2009 Flag

I agree. A good chiropractor could help. Remember that chiropractors are just like other 'professionals'. Not all are good at their 'craft'. So if you do not get results within a month move to another. No drugs, no side effects or long range problems due to drugs.

Good luck. They have worked for me for over 20+ years and yes. I have changed chiropractors. Your body responds differently to different treatments. I use to have side posture and manipulation of the spine and down it is drops and activator!

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By PAT (Guest Post) 02/20/2009 Flag

Migraines. Having suffered from them for 40 years--the back of the head is the primary place where the pain either starts or stays or goes up further into the head. Try a med like immitrex or similar. Sinus pain is generally in the front of your head. Hope you feel better.

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By B. 2 45 02/26/2009 Flag

I was told [whenI went to emergency] that it was high bloodpressure, it was dangerously high when they tested it & kept me there overnight, I too was under a lot of stress at the time, when under stress it returns when not I am fine. I hope for you that like me you will try not to let things "stress you out"!- it solves nothing, & your heart pays the price! all the best to you dear.

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