Headache at the base of your head

Your pain pattern,
What aggravates it,
How to get relief,
and more…


How People Describe This Pain Pattern

This pattern creates a strong band of tension along the base of the head that comes up over the back of the head. It comes from the semispinalis cervicis muscle. When it is only active on one side the pain is focused at the base of the head and creates tension that mostly radiates up the back of the head. When I have this headache, it is usually only a few minutes of joint work and stretching until it is gone.

Most commonly, both sides are active and it feels more like this:

The client comes in complaining of a headache at the base of their head. They may continue to say that it is really more of a neck ache that extends up into their head. It is usually dull and miserable instead of being sharp and blinding. If I ask further, they complain about it coming up over their head toward the front.



How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern

In another post, I discussed how joint problems perpetuate trigger points. This pattern is perpetuated when the top vertebrae (atlas) gets wedged forward underneath the head. This can happen when you’re sitting in front of the computer like the woman in this picture:

It is even worse when you prop your chin in your hand. After you get up from the computer, this muscle continues to pull down on the back of your head creating “Forward Head Posture.”

When your head is in front of your shoulders, muscles in the back of the neck strain to pull it back. Before computers and mobile phones, this posture was mostly a problem in counselors who craned their neck to listen empathically.

This headache often happens at night. People often refer to it as “that headache that comes on at 3:15.” They are looking for a better pillow or sleeping position. It happens when there are some fixated joints in the upper neck and the head lays in a certain fixed position for an extended position The stretches in the self-care section help the 3:15 headaches from coming on.


The Musculoskeletal Anatomy Behind Your Pain

This muscle is deep in the back of the neck and extends into the upper ribs. You can read more about it in this post about semispinalis cervicis.


Getting Relief on Your Own

Clinically Proven
Self-Care Recommendations.

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


Treatment Notes for Therapists

Better Bodywork
Through Shared Expertise.

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


This site is undergoing changes. Starting in early 2020, we began changing the format of the posts to include more extensive self-care, illustrations, therapist notes, anatomy, and protocols. We’d love your feedback. We are adding posts and converting the old posts as quickly as time permits.


Weekly Featured Post

Can’t Reach the Pain
Under the Shoulder Blade

This pain and tension under the shoulder blade may be the most common pain pattern that I see. It isn’t always the primary complaint as people have gotten used to the constant ache.

It is usually combined with this pattern in the upper neck, which creates upper neck tension to go with the shoulder blade pain.

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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