Trigger Points that
Create an Occipital Headache

Occipital headache

A headache in the back of the head is known as an occipital headache, since it is located over the occiput (the bone that makes up the back of the skull). Although headaches in this area can be caused by other problems, the most common, and fortunately, most treatable reason, is trigger points in certain neck and upper back muscles. (Click here to learn more about trigger points.) It is worth a shot to check these muscles and treat what you find to see if it will help you with your occipital headache.

The following chart is a quick reminder for easy treatment of trigger points. For more complete info, check out the self massage page, or try the other method: Deep Stroking Massage.

Self Massage: Trigger Point Pressure Release
  1. Lengthen muscle to the point of resistance (optional)
  2. Gradually apply pressure to the trigger point until you feel a resistance (discomfort) in the muscle
  3. Hold pressure until the resistance/discomfort fades (5-60 seconds)
  4. Increase pressure again to the resistance (discomfort)
  5. Repeat process 3-4 times per trigger point
  6. Repeat on all trigger points in the muscle
  7. Work each trigger point 3-6 times per day

Muscles that cause occipital headache

These muscles are listed in the order of most common to least common. There are brief descriptions below with a link to an image of the muscle.

Trapezius — This large muscle, called trapezius for it's shape, is very complex and has a number of trigger points. It is the most common cause of an occipital headache. Trigger point #1 is located right where the neck meets the shoulder. Pinch the small roll of skin right where the shoulder joins the neck. It feels like a tight band and sends pain to the temples, angle of the jaw, down the neck behind the ear, deep behind the eye, and to the back of the head. A somewhat less common cause of occipital headache is trigger point #2, located midway between the neck and shoulder joint. Trigger point #3 which is located a little toward the spine from the lower end of the shoulder blade also refers pain to the area. Click here for a picture of trigger point #1 and here for trigger points #2 and #3.

Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) — This is a very interesting muscle that can create a whole spectrum of problems, from dizziness and nausea, to ear ringing and head pain. The muscle runs from the skull behind the ear to the top of the breast bone and to the collar bone. The trigger points are located along the whole length of the muscle. For more complete info on this muscle, click here.

Semispinalus capitus and splenius cervicis — These are complicated little muscles in the back of the neck close to the spine that can create pain in the back of the head and even into the forehead. They don't like it when you bend your head forward for long periods of time (such as studying, reading, and writing). A tool like an Easy Reader, that props your book up at an angle, can reduce the strain on these muscles. To work on them, just feel along the spine in the neck to see if you can find any spots that are tender, or recreate the feeling of your headache. Click above on the title for the pictures.

Suboccipital muscles — These are a set of very small muscles at the base of the skull. You can find them by poking right below the edge of the skull from behind the ear, all the way to the other side. They frequently refer their pain to the side of the head and behind the ear, but also can create pain at the base of the skull. They are stressed by activities that require you to extend your head or look up. This can happen when someone lies face down on the floor and then props their neck up their hands to watch TV. It can also happen with poorly adjusted bifocals, or forward head posture. Click here for a picture of these muscles.

Occipitalis — This is a flat muscle that is actually on the skull itself and refers pain to the back of the head and the eye. To find it, poke the back of your skull. If these muscles are really "upset" you might notice it is painful to lay your head on a pillow. It can also entrap a nerve that runs through it and then can create a hot prickling and tingling sensation in the back of you head. Trigger points can be created by stress and tension tightening your face, wrinkling of the forehead and vision problems causing squinting. Click here for a picture.

Digastric muscle — This muscle is involved in swallowing, and is located right under the jaw. It usually sends its pain to behind the ear, sometimes the throat and occasionally the back of the head. To find these trigger points, press up right below the angle of the jaw. See if it is tender, and if it refers pain to the back of your head. Trigger points are created in this muscle from mouth breathing and jaw clenching/grinding. Click here for a picture.

Temporalis Muscle — This is a flat muscle on the side of the head above the ear. It mostly creates pain in the side of the head but can extend to the back of the head. This muscle can even create tooth pain. The trigger point that refers to the back of the head is above the ear to slightly behind the ear. These trigger points can be activated by clenching/grinding the jaw, dental work, excessive gum chewing and forward head posture. Click here for a picture.

There are probably other things you can do for your occipital headache. Check out the Headache page to get more tips on reducing or eliminating your pain.

Return from Occipital Headache to Home.

Find out which muscles are causing you pain!

Trigger Point Chart


Related Pages

Proper Office Ergonomics

Ergonomics in the Office


What are Trigger Points?

What are Trigger points


Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium Deficiency