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  • Writer's pictureJudy Slater

Neck pain at base of skull, Headaches Part 1

These are self-care tips to help bring temporary relief while we are dealing with COVID-19 restrictions. These exercises alone probably won't solve the problem because we are addressing symptoms not the root issues like common compensatory patterns caused by muscular imbalances, poor posture, overuse or inactivity. These tips are best used between bodywork sessions as home-retraining exercises recommended by a Myoskeletal Alignment Therapist, Physical Therapist, or a bodyworker who takes a global approach and understands how to assess and treat the underlying issues. For lasting results seek professional help to address the underlying issue and contributing factors.

Suboccipital Muscles

Symptoms: Base of the skull pain or headaches, Part 1

Forward Head Posture, Upper Cross Syndrome

I've gotta tell you, I love these little muscles. Not sure why because they plague so many people and can pack quite a punch in the misery department. The occipital nerves travel through two of them so these muscles are thought to play a role in certain types of migraines.

If they are really flared up I have the best luck with a few cycles of icing at the base of the skull before attempting to stretch. (A note on icing: always protect the skin with a thin cloth or T shirt between the ice pack and your skin. Apply ice 20 minutes on, 40 minutes off and repeat.) I love to apply Theraworx, a topical magnesium foam before working on a tight muscle which can really help to calm it down. Topical magnesium foam can be used daily or even multiple times a day when a muscle feels like it's tightening up or cramping. It's awesome for night time leg cramps as well.

After working the suboccipital muscles I also like to confuse the nociceptors (what communicates pain with the brain) with a topical peppermint oil (Be careful to keep it clear of your eyes) or a cooling lotion just to keep them calmed down as they can have a tendency to cramp up...not a fun situation. If this is a chronic issue, you might consider investing in a CranioCradle or similar soft foam item that applies gentle pressure to the suboccipitals. You lay on the floor and rest your head on the cradle and just breath into it for about 10 minutes at a time. Again, if it's really flared up I would ice between sessions. And I wouldn't over do the CranioCradle. These are tiny muscles and a little typically goes a long way

Ok, just know, this is NOT a pretty stretch but it can be really powerful so it's worth it. It's a little hard to explain so if you get lost just skip down and watch the video.

The key is to keep your neck straight. Until you get used to the stretch try using a door frame to make sure you are keeping the back of your head against the door frame or wall and not bending the neck toward the chest. Once you know what it feels like you can do the stretch laying down on the floor or in bed. To start, insure your neck is straight by backing up to a wall. With your head staying in contact with the wall, tuck your chin like you are trying to drive it back to the spine. Concentrate and feel for a stretch at the base of the skull. You can apply VERY GENTLE over pressure on the top of the head or push the chin back with your hand. Next turn your nose to one side about 20 degrees and repeat the tuck, this targets the oblique suboccipitals on the sides. Repeat on the opposite side. This is one you don't want to over do. Maybe three, 5 second stretches in each position per session. Then if it's still hurting do another round of icing before stretching again.

Be patient, breath and try to focus on where you want to feel the stretch. This one may take some minor tweaking to perfect.

While in quarantine my daughter is my can hear her laughing at how beautiful I look with my double chins :)

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