Aromatherapy, Ayurveda, Massage, Thai Yoga Massage, Yoga

What causes a stiff neck and tension headaches?

The Suboccipitals are the eight small muscles located at the base of your skull – find them now by placing your fingertips over your head and your thumbs into hollows right under the bony skull either side of your spine.  Once you have found them, apply a little pressure and them move your eyes up and down and left and right – can you feel the small movements in the muscle? 

The suboccipitals are the deepest muscles on the back of the neck, and they are involved in more subtle head movements like rocking and tilting of the head, as well as turning the head to one side. But what makes them particularly interesting is that they also stabilize the position of your head, which makes them deeply connected to your eyes and your vestibular system that controls your balance.

Try this exercise…  keep reading this text but move your head slowly from side to side – your vision will remain focused on the text while your head moves.  And if someone were to call you name, your head might turn toward the sound but your vision would still stay focused.  

Your inner ear, your eyes and your suboccipital muscles work very closely together to hold your head steady and keep the image that you see with your eyes steady as well. That is why you can get a headache or get dizzy or feel sick if you are a passenger trying to read in a moving car – the constant motion of the car makes your eyes and your suboccipitals work overtime in their attempt to keep your head and the words in front of you steady so you can process the information. 

If you read a lot, the action of your eyes is very repetitive from left to right, from left to right – your eyes follow the same path over and over, which creates eye strain. And if you work with a screen rather than with printed text all day, your eyes are having to work overtime as the pixels and screen resolution are more demanding. 

 So….   if you look at your screen for long periods of time and keep your head in a poor position that is not balanced over your upper body (and perhaps you do some of this on the train) that’s a lot of strain on your eyes and suboccipitals.  Or maybe you simply read a lot in a less than ideal posture.  All of this can result in neck stiffness, pain at the top of your neck or behind your eyes, and tension headaches. Other factors that might contribute to suboccipital tension are whiplash and teeth grinding and everyday stresses.

So what to do??  Well a massage is a great place to start…. 

The therapies I offer are a wonderful way to treat your head, neck and shoulders.  My Heavenly Head focuses exclusively on this area and works wonders!  Clients report feeling more relaxed than ever as the tension melts away….

We can also look at your overall posture and correct any imbalances using muscle energy techniques, and deep tissue work as well as myofascial release and Thai Yoga massage.  A sedentary job  – and even a very active job – can play havoc with your hips, back, core and leg muscles.  And as the connections of fascial tissue run right through the body from head to toes,  this can also affect your head neck and shoulders. Even your arms can take a toll and can play a significant role (is your mouse arm sore?)  

You may want to consider Yoga

It’s an excellent whole body holistic therapy that can help you correct poor posture, relieve aches and pains and teach you ways to relax deeply. You can come to class in Wooler or Chatton, or you may prefer to work 1-1 for a personalised plan.

Here are some top tips to help you with head and neck tension today…

  • Release eye strain by moving your eyes around independently of your head
  • Gently warm up the neck with basic flexion/extension, side bending and rotation
  • Realign the position of the head in relation to the upper body – feel your neck and head balanced on top of your shoulders.  Arrange your work station around this posture.
  • Visualise your head floating over the shoulders and gently drawing upwards toward the sky
  • To simulate gentle pressure on suboccipital muscles, you can roll up a hand towel tightly and place it under your neck as you lie back and relax, making sure that the towel is tucked close to the base of your head, and that your neck feels fully supported. Pop a bolster or pillow under your knees and cover yourself with a cosy blanket.  Rest in that position for at least 5 minutes breathing deeply and relaxing the weight of your body into the earth.  
  • Use a simple breath practice to calm the nervous system.  Sit quietly in a chair (at work or home) with your hands relaxed in you lap, your spine lengthened comfortably and your shoulders softened away from the ears.  Close your eyes and breathe through your nose.  Inhale for your count of 4 and exhale for your count of 6.  Stay here for 5 mins.  Notice how you feel
  • Come to yoga class and find gentle ways to bring the body/mind back into balance.  

Get in touch – I look forward to working with you soon!

2 thoughts on “What causes a stiff neck and tension headaches?”

    1. Thanks Brenda. I thought it would be good idea to write about all the things we do in Yoga as it saves me chatting on too much in class – lol! See you soon XXX


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