The suboccipital muscles are prime contributors to headaches, migraines, and stiff neck.

Suboccipital Muscles Muscle Pain: Signs and Symptoms

  • Headaches with a band of pain on the side of the head that extends from the back of the head to the eye. Pain is felt deep in the head and is hard to describe
  • Migraine pain
  • Stiff neck, usually without pain

Where are the Suboccipital Muscles?

The suboccipital muscles are a group of four muscles located on each side of the back of the neck just below the base of the skull. The muscles connect the skull with the top two vertebrae of the neck.

What movements do the suboccipital muscles control?

  • Turns the head to the side
  • Tilts the head to the side (ear to shoulder)

Activities that cause suboccipital pain and symptoms:

  • Frequent movement of the head
  • Using your shoulder to hold a phone to your ear
  • Laying on your stomach watching TV with your head propped up in your hands
  • Emotional tension

TWD Recommends: Do You Have Headaches That Radiate From Deep In The Head? A Stiff Neck But No Pain?

These symptoms point to the suboccipital muscles. The Craniocradle was developed to treat these symptoms. The cradle applies pressure to the muscles while providing gentle traction to the neck. Use for 5-10 minutes and feel a reduction in pain and stress. The cradle can also be used for treatment on other areas, instructions are provided.

Suboccipital Muscle Triangle

You use the suboccipital muscles when you turn or twist your head side to side.

Interesting facts about the suboccipital muscles:

  • The four suboccipital muscles:
    • Obliquus capitis inferior
    • Obliquus capitis superior
    • Rectus capitis posterior major
    • Rectus capitis posterior minor
  • The obliquus capitis inferior, obliquus capitis superior and the rectus capitis posterior major make up the suboccipital triangle.
  • It is often said that suboccipital pain feels like it is deep inside the head. The pain is referred to as ‘ghost pain’ because the pain is hard to pin to a specific location and is hard to define.

Suboccipital Muscles Pain and Symptoms Can Be Similar To, Contribute and Be Affected By These Medical Diagnosis:

  • Headaches
  • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
  • Sinusitis
  • Eye Strain
  • Food Allergies
  • Concussion
  • Post Concussion Syndrome
  • Toothache
  • Mastoiditis

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the suboccipital muscles:

Satellite trigger points associated with the suboccipital muscles:

  • Trapezius
  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Levator Scapulae
  • Longus Colli
  • Longus Capitis

For detailed anatomy information:  Suboccipitals Anatomy

TWD Recommenations for Suboccipital Muscle Pain

Cold Therapy Gel For Recent Neck Injury

Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel is an excellent pain relieving gel and I recommend it for those who have sudden onset muscle pain or recent injuries.  It is better to use than warm therapy gels and creams for muscle pain caused by inflammation as it cools the area much like ice. A recent study showed that Biofreeze decreased pain 2 times more than ice and the pain relief lasts 9 – 10 longer. It is recommended for those who have had a recent neck injury or sudden onset pain. Rub Biofreeze  into the back of the neck going up to the base of the skull. It can work wonders on tension headaches that start in the neck or base of the skull.

Cold and Heat Wrap for Neck and Upper Back

Elasto-gel Cervical Collar can be used for heat or cold therapy to the neck, upper shoulder area. This is a great wrap to use with the suboccipital muscles as it can be adjusted to sit at the base of the skull. Use cold therapy for new and recent injury or sudden onset pain. Use  heat therapy for injuries over a week old and chronic pain from old injury and tight muscles. I recommend this because it conforms to the contours of your body and is well made to last for years.

Hot Cold Cervical Roll For Headaches and Neck Pain

Elasto-Gel Cervical Roll can be heated, chilled or used simply for support and pressure for the neck. The roll can help with suboccipital muscles pain and headaches. For best results, position the roll at the base of the skull.

Warm Therapy Gels can help relieve neck and headache pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is a pain relieving gel that I use both personally and professionally in my massage therapy practice. It provides warmth without burning heat unlike other heating creams and gels. Apply Sombra to the back of the neck and along the base of the skull to help relax the suboccipital muscles and ease the pain.

Self Treatment Massage Tools For Headaches and Neck Pain

I use and often recommend the Neck King Massage Tool For Neck and Back to my clients who suffer with headaches, migraines and stiff necks. The Neck King works on trigger points and pressure points to help relieve muscle tension and pain. The secret to using the Neck King is to follow the directions carefully and to slowly build up the time spent using the tool. For many first time users the tool is too hard to use comfortably. Folding a hand towel and laying it over the Neck King will help ease the discomfort. It works extremely well on the muscles at the base of the skull. This tool has helped me as well as many of my clients relieve headaches, sore stiff necks and upper back strain.

Self Treatment Help For Suboccipital Muscle Pain and Headaches

When I recommend trigger point tools to my clients I always recommend that they also purchase Claire Davies The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. Mr. Davies explain the trigger point phenomenon and muscle pain in everyday language.  But what makes this book worth its weight in gold are the individual muscle trigger point treatments that Davies has compiled. His diagrams and step by step instructions help you locate which muscles are contributing to your pain,  how to find the trigger point and treat it.  It takes time and practice to master finding trigger points, but once you learn you have a tool and method to help relieve muscle pain throughout the body. If you are suffering from headaches that go up into the eyes, migraines and a  painful stiff neck,  treating the trigger points in the suboccipital muscles can help reduce or eliminate you pain.  This book is a must-have for anyone interested in finding the cause and treating muscle pain.


Leave a Comment