Entry 3 – Suboccipital Muscles.
For my last entry on headaches I will choose to talk about the Suboccipitals!! It’s all very exciting!
I’ve chosen these because I can give you a wonderful technique to release them yourself.
First of all, where are they and what do they look like?
The Suboccipitals are a set of very small muscles at the base of the skull. You can find them by poking right below the edge of the skull from behind the ear, all the way to the other side.
Where do we feel the headache?
They frequently refer their pain to the side of the head and behind the ear, but also can create pain at the base of the skull.
What stresses them out?
They are stressed by activities that require you to extend your head or look up. Forward head posture also triggers pain in these muscles as they work to balance the head on top of the spine.
The suboccipitals are also partly “antagonised” (balanced) by the jaw muscles. This is quite the interesting pairing. The way this usually works in our body is when 2 muscles work in opposite directions to create movement at a joint – for example Biceps and Triceps: When flexing the bicep muscle (in this case the agonist) the tricep (in this case the antagonist) simultaneously relaxes so there is minimal tension and the bicep can contract to it’s optimum without interference.
The jaw muscles however, do not affect the spinal joints, and cannot directly work against/with the suboccipitals to balance the head. Nevertheless, they do: muscle studies have shown that the jaw muscles behave much like they would in a more normal push-pull relationship with the suboccipitals. They function together and dysfunction together. Both of these muscle groups routinely harbour trigger points that cause headaches.
How can we treat them?
If you have ever seen me for a treatment you’ve probably experienced the intense sensation of me pressing my fingertips just under the base of your skull – it’s a feeling easily remembered through it’s intensity and also dramatic relief of pain.
A way you can do this yourself at home is using a yoga block:
Lay on your back with the base of your skull (or just bellow on the more fleshy part) on the edge of the yoga block. The weight of your shoulders and head will create pressure where the edge of the block presses onto your suboccipital muscles. Roll your head slowly to one side until you feel a spot that creates the same pattern of pain as your headache and hold there – breathe and relax until the pain subsides but hold no longer than a minute. Do this up to 3 times. Roll to the other side and repeat.
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