Understanding Trigger Points – Pain, burning and tingling in the back of the head

Client’s Description

referral - semispinalis mid cervicalWhen the trigger point is mild, people complain of a headache and run their hand up and down the back of their head on one side. They often complain of a bigger area of pain and are surprised at how small the area is that they are actually touching. Sleeping with pressure on the back of the head and neck may bother them and disturb sleep. They prefer to get relief from an ice pack on the back of their neck than heat and may complain that heat makes it worse, very quickly.

They often do not know why or how this happened, unless there was an incident that whipped their head around such as car accident or a fall onto their back while holding their head up. In these cases of trauma, other patterns usually need to be sorted out as well. I have created this headache by working with a screen that is high on the wall in front of me. After hours of doing so, my head will start to get itchy and tingly before a headache comes on. It can also be caused by laying the top of the neck on the edge of a hard surface, e.g., washing hair in the sink at a salon.

When the muscle is severely restricted by the trigger point, people complain of burning, tingling and “that numb feeling” on the back of their head. At this point, the greater occipital nerve has become entrapped, and people are more concerned with the tingling than with the headache. It is interesting to see how much they will unconsciously touch the back  of their head while talking.


Self Care

You may get temporary relief with Ice and Stretch of the neck. Icing the back of the neck and then stretching by tucking the chin may offer some relief from the sensation on the back of the head.

This usually involves some displaced joints in the upper cervicals and requires some therapeutic treatment. See your trigger point specialist for a proper assessment and lasting relief.

Therapy Notes


The trigger point is in the semispinalis capitis, which originates from the vertebrae of the upper back and lower neck and attaches to the back of the head, trapping the upper cervical vertebrae in between.

This is almost always relieved when atlas is mobilized. That can be done with many techniques including cranial, intra-oral and anterior cervical NMT. Stretching and other techniques can be used to stabilize the musculature around the upper cervicals and prevent the atlas from being wedged forward again. Lengthening the scalenes and other musculature in the lower anterior cervicals allows the base of the neck to support the correction of forward-head posture.

Similar Patterns

Click on these categories to see if there is a referral pattern that better describes your concerns.

tags-back-of-head tags-headache 



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.

Question? Comment? Typo?
The Body Guild.org
(404) 226-1363