If you are a sufferer of tension headaches, it’s time to get acquainted with your suboccipital muscles. This group of neck muscles – normally just called the “suboccipitals” – is one of the most pleasing targets for massage.
Along with other neck muscles, they work to keep your head balanced on top of your spine, in particular managing fine movements of the head. This is a major task – the human head can weigh 4-5 kg and the suboccipitals are constantly making tiny adjustments.
The suboccipitals are easy to find – just underneath the back of your skull, in a line from ear to ear. While the entire group responds positively to pressure in most cases, a massage recipient may have personal preferences for the most pleasurable point along the ridge – perhaps in the thinner roots of the tissue more on the skull, or deeper into the muscles further under the ledge. Some prefer massage pressure on the thick bands of muscle on either side of the centre, others prefer it on the sides just behind the bump of bone under the ear.
Aside from being a deeply relaxing and satisfying pressure point, the suboccipitals are highly relevant in treating one of the more common of all complaints, the common tension headache. There are of course other muscle groups and trigger points to focus on while treating headaches, but a massage of the suboccipitals is generally an excellent place to start. Together with the jaw muscles (which act to balance them) they are the source of most tension headaches. Pain in these two muscle groups are also common triggers for migraines and cluster headaches.
It is quite difficult to effectively massage your own suboccipital muscles, but it can be effective to lie down with this muscle group resting on a tennis ball. A massage therapist will normally massage suboccipitals with the client lying face up – the therapist can then reach under the base of the skull and press upwards with her fingertips. It’s also a bit tricky to target these muscles with stretches, but neck circles and the application of heat packs can be soothing in case you can’t make it to see us, your favourite London massage therapists!