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Stiffness and Pain at the Base of the Neck When Turning

Table of Contents

How People Describe This Pain Pattern

People turn their head and complain of stiffness that focuses on a spot on one side of the base of their neck. When I ask for more details, they often turn their head slowly until they say, “There. It hurts right there.” When I ask them to touch where it hurts, they lay their hand on the base of their neck and as they turn. Then, they often say that it is interfering with their driving when they are trying to change lanes.

As with other stiff neck problems, like the pain along the side of the neck, they tend to turn their eyes and shoulders instead of turning their head when looking to the side.

They don’t usually complain about pain while breathing. However, when I ask them to take a deep breath, the often have some soreness at the base of the neck, or a little below.

When I ask about their vision, they often look surprised. This trigger point often leaves them with some problems with blurred vision. As well, this muscle tends to increase anxiety and exacerbate sensory defensiveness.

How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern

This muscle can be stressed by things that suddenly or chronically pull the head forward. Those activities include an unusual sports weekend that involves looking up, like rock climbing. They may have been lifting things while looking up to put them on a shelf.

One client complained of aggravating it while awkwardly sitting and working on their laptop on, well, their lap. They were folded forward for a long time craning their neck down while typing. There is a problem with one of the upper ribs that perpetuates this trigger point. Trying to breathe while pulling the head forward and bending the torso forward is commonly involved.

When I ask if they have been texting or looking straight down at something, they will sometimes realize that they have a new smartphone or use their phone more than usual.  This condition gets worse when the hips are pulled forward in the chair, and the muscles of the neck pull the shoulders up while breathing.

Also , they often say that it was caused by the way they “slept funny.” This muscle is more likely to get aggravated when the muscle gets cold while they “sleep funny.”

The Musculoskeletal Anatomy Behind Your Pain

Musculoskeletal Anatomy

About these Illustrations…

This muscle straps down other muscles while it helps to turn and bend the neck. You can read more about it in this post on splenius cervicis.

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, stretch 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 materials and instructed classes since the mid-90s. This includes anatomy, trigger points, cranial, and neuromuscular.

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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 include more patterns with better self-care. Meanwhile, there may be formatting, content presentation, and readability inconsistencies. Until we get older posts updated, please excuse our mess.