Muscle of the Month: Suboccipitals
There are eight tiny muscles that have the huge job of keeping your head up, but they can cause a huge headache too! These are your suboccipital muscles. Resting in the nook at the base of the skull, these muscles are essential to fine head movements and in relaying proprioception of your head (where your head is in space and time) to your brain. When out of balance or strained, these muscles can cause temporal headaches and pain with neck movements.
Rectus Capitis Posterior Major: Rock and tilt head back into extension, rotate head to same side
Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor: Rock and tilt head back into extension
Oblique Capitis Superior: Rock and tilt head back into extension
Oblique Capitis Inferior: Rotate head to same side
Common pain culprit – Eye strain and extended head tilting.
When our eyes are strained, we adjust our head with fine movements to focus better. This puts a strain on the suboccipitals. Also, keeping our head in even a slight tilt for extended periods of time can cause increased strain resulting in pain in the suboccipitals. Having to tilt your head back while driving to avoid the sun streaming into your eyes under your visor, or having a computer screen slightly too low or too high, can keep the head in a tilted position all day. This isn’t an overly strenuous task for the body, but it is for the suboccipitals. Over time they will become strained and headaches can develop.
Adjusting your position while at your computer, while driving, even while walking, can help with suboccipital pain. Any time your head is overly tilted (up or down) for an extended period of time, your posture needs to be adjusted.
An eye exam might show the need for a new prescription. Having the proper glasses puts less stress on the eyes and on the suboccipitals! Progressive lenses can contribute to suboccipital strain if you have to tilt your head back for computer work, for example. Ask your optometrist to help you fix this.
Deep trigger point work can target these deep muscles. Remember, “deep” means into deeper layers of tissue; it doesn’t mean the treatment will hurt. Deep work will always be done within your comfort level. As superficial muscles relax, the deeper ones can be more readily accessed, and when we get access to the suboccipitals, we can relieve the trigger points causing headaches.
Strengthening your deep neck flexors, as we saw in this recent post on chin tucks, will help balance the musculature of the front and back of the neck and decrease any tendency you have to tilt your head back.
Ask your RMT for treatment and a self-care program to address any headaches you may be experiencing.