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The Role of Suboccipital Muscles in Cervicogenic Headaches

Updated: Dec 15, 2023


Headache

Have you ever experienced a headache that seems to originate from your neck? This type of headache is called a cervicogenic headache, and it can be caused by tension in the muscles at the base of your skull, also known as the suboccipital muscles. In this blog post, we will explore the role of the suboccipital muscles in cervicogenic headaches and the importance of atlantoaxial rotation in managing this condition.


The suboccipital muscles are a group of four small muscles located at the base of the skull, between the skull and the first two vertebrae of the neck, known as the atlas (C1) and axis (C2). These muscles are responsible for fine movements of the head, such as rotation and tilting. They also help maintain the stability of the atlantoaxial joint, which is the joint between the atlas and axis vertebrae.


When the suboccipital muscles become tight and tense, they can cause irritation and inflammation of the nerves that supply the head and neck, resulting in cervicogenic headaches. These headaches are characterized by a dull, aching pain that starts at the base of the skull and radiates to the forehead and temples.


One of the key factors in managing cervicogenic headaches is the restoration of normal range of motion in the atlantoaxial joint. The atlantoaxial joint is responsible for approximately 50% of the total rotation of the neck. When there is limited rotation in this joint, the suboccipital muscles have to work harder to compensate, leading to tension and tightness.


By restoring normal range of motion in the atlantoaxial joint, the suboccipital muscles can be allowed to relax, reducing tension and inflammation in the surrounding tissues. One way to achieve this is through physical therapy, which can involve specific manual therapy to the atlas and axis vertebrae to improve joint mobility and reduce tension in the suboccipital muscles.

In addition manual therapy, there are other strategies that can help manage cervicogenic headaches. These include exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the neck and upper back, as well as stress reduction techniques such as meditation and deep breathing.


In conclusion, the suboccipital muscles play a crucial role in the development of cervicogenic headaches. By addressing tension and tightness in these muscles and restoring normal range of motion in the atlantoaxial joint, it is possible to manage and even prevent these types of headaches. If you suffer from cervicogenic headaches, consider consulting with a healthcare professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses your unique needs.

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