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Headache with Tender Top of Neck While Turning

Your Pain Pattern,
What Aggravates It,

The Underlying Anatomy
How to Get relief,
and more…

Want to skip ahead?
Here’s a link to my post about
getting relief on your own.

How People Describe This Pain Pattern

tender top of neck with headache while turning head

People complain about a tender spot at the top of the neck when they touch it while turning their heads. I have to admit, I find it interesting that they don’t complain about pain during an activity or in general. They usually complain that it is tender to touch. When I press them what touches that spot or when they noticed that it was sore to the touch, they don’t know.

Background Headache Tension

They usually don’t complain about the headache at first but, almost always, they tell me that they have one, when I ask. Sometimes, the person will complain that it gets worse when they turn their head so that their nose moves away from the tender spot. They may also complain about it being intense on the same side as the neck tenderness. In those cases, I’ve asked them to describe the headache in more detail.

When you feel around in the area that is tender at the top of the neck, it usually feels fuller, stiffer, and more sensitive than the other side. This is much more common on the right and restricts turning the head to the left.

How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern

Slept Funny

This trigger point is often activated by turning and tilting the head suddenly or for a long time. This might happen if you fall asleep with your neck across the arm of the couch. People often say that they “just slept funny” and woke up with a stiff neck. A friend ended up in this pain after a long ride in a crowded car. I’ll also hear people complain about it after sleeping in a strange bed.

This pattern also becomes apparent sometimes after working through other trigger point patterns created by whiplash.

The Musculoskeletal Anatomy Behind Your Pain

Anatomy – Throacic Outlet

The anatomy of these structures is important to understand the syndrome. This post walks through the structures one at a time.

These muscles strap the head onto the top two vertebrae and stabilize that movement. Read more in this post about suboccipital muscles.

Getting Relief on Your Own

Clinically Proven
Self-Care Strategies

This post has strategies for getting relief on your own. Explore how to change your activities, stretching, and other strategies that relieve the pain associated with this trigger point.

Therapy Notes for Massage and Bodywork

Better Bodywork
Through Shared Expertise

This post has techniques, tips, treatment routines, and anatomy illustrations to improve the bodyworker’s approach.

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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*This site is undergoing significant changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make them easier to read. The result will also be more accessible and will include more patterns with better self-care. In the meanwhile, there may be inconsistencies in formatting, content presentation, and readability. Until we get older posts updated, please excuse our mess.