There are many different types of headaches. One of the more common headaches is the suboccipital headache.
At the base of the skull there is a group of muscles, the suboccipital muscles, which can cause headache pain for many people. These four pairs of muscles are responsible for subtle movements between the skull and first and second vertebrae in the neck.
When the suboccipital muscles go into spasms they can entrap the nerves that travel through the suboccipital region. By compressing the suboccipital nerves they set off a series of events that lead to either a tension or a migraine like headaches.
The suboccipital muscles commonly become tense and tender due to factors such as
- Eye strain, wearing new eyeglasses.
- Sitting at a computer with our head forward and our head slightly tipped these muscles are doing a significant amount of work. This poor posture eventually causes the muscles to become tired, fatigue, and injured.
- Grinding the teeth, slouching posture, and trauma (such as a whiplash injury).
Common signs and symptoms of a headache stemming from the suboccipitals include
- Pain, stiffness, and a dull ache in the upper neck and base of the skull
- Pain on the back of the head, and pain in the forehead and behind the eyes.
- Sometimes there may be visual disturbances or nausea, but those tend to be more common in migraine type headaches.
People often feel relief when icing, stretching, or rubbing the suboccipital muscles. In the early stages rubbing the suboccipital region can reduce or eliminate a headache.
When the headaches progress often palpating the suboccipital muscles intensifies the headache. Some people feel a tension band or headache that moves towards the eye. When pushing on the suboccipital muscles, it may increase the intensity of eye pain.
Suboccipital headaches are improved with over-the-counter NSAIDs, ice, stretching, therapy, electric, ultrasound, and cold laser treatments. Goals of treatment are to decrease muscle spasms of the suboccipital muscles and trapezius. The poor posture of slouching forward and tipping the head up causes additional injury and spasms to the trapezius and upper back muscles. Treatment always looks at improving these muscles as well.
Treatment will focus on improving posture when standing and sitting, to relieve stress and strain on the muscles. In addition massage therapy is excellent at decreasing muscle spasms, pain, tenderness, and tension in these muscles. Stretching will be utilized to enhance flexibility. Strengthening exercises will be utilized for the weak muscles of the neck and shoulder complex.
Graston Technique is a very effective tool at decreasing the scar tissue and spasms associated with poor posture, headaches, and suboccipital spasms. Often people with suboccipital headaches have had poor posture for many years, and grass and helps decrease the fascial adhesions and scar tissue from years of poor posture.