Here’s another headache that comes from a muscle in your neck. Again, the headache is generated from a trigger point in your neck near the green spot. This probably looks familiar too.
People come in and trace around their brow with their fingers and say, “I have a headache right here.” When I ask, they sometimes describe the pain behind the ear and might talk about the pain on top of their head. The trigger points in this muscle do more than create pain. They irritate your ears, vision and sinuses. Those are clues for your neuromuscular therapist too.
See the little pain area under the jaw? In a statistically significant number of cases, this trigger point makes that sharp pain when you swallow. Bet you didn’t think of that as a muscle problem.
This section of this muscle, the sternocleidomastoid, is aggravated when you lean back in a chair or on the couch and pull your head forward and off to one side to watch TV. You might get it from sleeping with your head sharply turned to one side. Sitting up in bed and reading the book off to one side strains the muscle too. In the photo below, Marilyn is in the position to create the show-stopping headache. It is even worse without the supporting pillow.
It also doesn’t help when you read like the gal in the photo below, even if it is a romantic day in the park. The muscle that looks like and upside-down V in her neck is the sternocleidomastoid.
There are also muscles in the jaw and head that produce pain in a very similar arc but they are in slightly different places around the brow and have some other tell-tale symptoms. A trigger point specialist is trained to understand these patterns and target the problem for more complete and longer lasting relief.
Thia Ice and Stretch routine can be great for immediate relief, especially of this just occurred from reading in bed or leaning back while watching TV. Run ice from the back of your ear along the muscle that goes to the notch at the base of your neck. Then turn slowly toward that side 4-5 times, holding it for 2 seconds at the end of the turn. Here’s a post on the basics of Ice-n-stretch.
Until a therapist has time to correct the joint and muscular problems at a deeper level, avoid postures where you pull your head forward and to one side as described above. That’ll help a great deal.
In the words of the great bodywork pioneer, Ida Rolf, “Where the pain is, it ain’t.” So be aware that most trigger points are not so close to the pain. This one comes from the sternal division of the sternocleidomastoid.
There are more than 20 joints between the origin and insertion of this muscle. Travell calls this muscle “amazingly complex” but it responds well with lasting results when the joint problems are addressed. Upper cervical joints and the sternoclavicular joint seem particularly influential on the trigger points in this muscle. The atlanto-occipital joint is probably the most influential joint on the SCM.
An ice and stretch routine helps in saving time and easing discomfort before direct treatment. It softens and releases a great deal of musculature, leaving the critical pieces available for focused work. A good sub-occipital routine or lamina groove route are also helpful before treating SCM directly.
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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.