Tension headaches are very common, affecting up to 21% of the entire global population, or 1.4 billion people, at one time or another.
One of the primary causes of a tension headache is the constant stretching (weakening) of a network of muscles at the top of either side of your neck and occiput (base of your skull) called the suboccipital triangle, or SOT. These muscles contain the highest percentage of mechanoreceptors (receptors that sense mechanical sensation and pressure) of any region in your entire body.
The SOT muscles are:
1. Rectus capitis posterior major – connect occiput to C2 spinous process (rear center).
2. Rectus capitis posterior minor – connect occiput to C1 posterior tubercle (rear center).
3. Obliquus capitis superior – connect occiput to C1 transverse process (side).
4. Obliquus capitis minor – connect C1 transverse process (side) to C2 spinous process (rear center).
The SOT gets weakened when we do a lot of hunching forward with our neck i.e. staring at a computer screen for extended periods of time, looking down to text, head propped up on one end of the couch while watching TV, etc.
One way to strengthen these vitally important muscles is a very simple exercise. Essentially you retract your chin straight back, in the opposite direction that your nose points, as if you’re making a double chin. Hold that position at the peak of the contraction for 1-2 seconds, then release. Do this for 10 reps. Once a single set of 10 reps feels too easy, add in a 2nd set. It’s up to you whether you want to eventually do a 3rd set each day. Pay attention to how you feel, and if there is any discomfort, simply stop.
It will elicit a strange feeling in the SOT muscles that you won’t be familiar with. Done consistently over time and the SOT will get stronger and stronger, and you may feel less and less tension.
Now, I say all this with the understanding that C1 and C2 are in proper alignment. Everyone who walks into my office for the first time has a misalignment of C1 and/or C2.
So, once C1 and C2 are in proper alignment after a specific chiropractic adjustment, these exercises will have much more efficacy.