312021Oct
Do You Get Headaches Behind Your Eyes? Stretch For Suboccipital/Cranial Release

Do You Get Headaches Behind Your Eyes? Stretch For Suboccipital/Cranial Release

The base of the cranium, where the back of the head and neck join, is a very busy place. 4 layers of muscle cross the top vertebrae to attach to the skull, the deepest layer of these being the suboccipital muscles. These are 4 small, distinct muscles that help initiate head extension and  rotation. Bad posture or tight neck muscles can tighten the sub occipitals into a shortened position, and can lead to trigger points which can refer pain or headaches felt  behind the eyes. Stretching these muscles can help prevent this from happening, and can also help to stretch/release the other muscles in this area.

STEPS FOR STRETCHING SUBOCCIPITAL MUSCLES:

  • Seated position
  • Deep diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing
  • Tongue at roof of mouth to relax jaw muscles
  • Place both thumbs at the base of the skull at top of neck; lace fingers together and relax your hands on the top back of your head
  • Let gravity and the weight of your hands pull your head forward into flexion, bringing your chin closer to your chest; think more weight on your pinkies than thumbs
  • Inhale; look up with your eyes only
  • Exhale: look down, gently tuck your chin a little more, and let the weight of your hands pull your head forward and down a little more into flexion
  • Repeat 3-5 times

Looking up with your eyes can contract some of the suboccipital muscles to pull the cranium back into extension. Looking down will signal these muscles to release through something called reciprocal inhibition. This allows for a greater stretch of the muscles as they are effectively ‘turned off’ for a short period of time. Exhalation can also help facilitate the effects of reciprocal inhibition, so will help with  the stretch.

The eyes connect to suboccipital muscles through the vestibulo-ocular reflex; this reflex helps keep us steady and balanced when we are looking around and moving our head. This connection seems to help release the base of the cranium as well.

This stretch can really help people who spend a lot of time sitting at the computer, or who have a head forward posture in general. It can also help people who experience headaches behind or above the eyes.


-Chris Carlson, RMT


Photo source: cbphysicaltherapy.com