Suboccipital Exercises: Benefits & Types

What are Suboccipital Muscles?

Suboccipital muscles are the group of muscles found behind the neck. These muscles are found below the lower back area of the skull. In terms of anatomy, suboccipital muscles comprises of the obliquus capitis inferior and superior; and rectus capitis minor and major, all of which lies beneath the occipital bone. Any under development or excessive strain of these muscles can cause a lot of discomfort and pain in the head and neck region. Possible causes of straining can be stress and incorrect neck posture. It is advised to consult an experienced doctor if there is persistent pain in the head and neck region.

What are Suboccipital Exercises?

Suboccipital exercises are specially structured exercises for working out the suboccipital muscles of the head and neck region. They are done to de-stress the suboccipital muscles and relieve the area of any pain or discomfort.

Benefits of Suboccipital Exercises

Suboccipital exercises can help in releasing tightness, stiffness and tension from the neck muscles(1). They help in increasing the flexibility of the neck and thus reduce any pain or discomfort(2). Suboccipital exercises, if done regularly, can help in making the neck strong which in turn can help in strengthening the surrounding muscles such as the back and shoulder muscles. This helps in reducing chances of neck and spine injuries. It also arrests certain type of headaches like tension headaches(2). Suboccipital exercises benefits people with chronic neck pain by improving their range of motion, and enhance function by reducing disability.

Types of Suboccipital Exercises

There are various kinds of suboccipital exercises. The most common types are discussed below briefly. It is important to note that before starting with any exercise, it is recommended to get an opinion from a doctor. It is important to rule out other causes of head and neck discomfort before resorting to exercises. Also, in the beginning, it is important that the exercises are supervised by an experienced physiotherapist to avoid injuries or inappropriate pulls and strains. This can worsen the condition rather than fixing the issues.

Most common examples of suboccipital exercises include:

Suboccipital Stretches:

This is a simple yet a very effective exercise for preventing straining and knotting sensations in the cervical area of the spine(3). This exercise is done by either standing against a wall or by sitting on a chair with back straight against the wall or back of the chair. The chin is then pulled backward till the neck feels straight. If against the wall, the neck should align against the wall and touch it(4). Hold this position for about 5 seconds and then relax and return to neutral position. Repeat this couple of time as a set. It is advised to avoid lifting the chin during the exercise. This exercise can be done anywhere (at home or work) and it is recommended to do this exercise about 7 times a day.

Head Lift as a Suboccipital Exercise:

This exercise is done by lying flat on a yoga mat or any other mat that is comfortable. Make sure that you lie flat on your tummy with chin resting on the floor. If required a rolled-up towel or yoga block can be used under the forehead for additional rest and support. The head is then lifted off the ground to about 1 inch above the floor(4). This position is maintained for up to 10 seconds before returning to neutral position. It is recommended to do 10 sets of this exercise every day.

Forward and Backward Stretches:

This is again a very simple form of exercise which can be done anywhere (at home or at work). This exercise is done by sitting on the edge of a comfortable but firm chair with back straight. The position of the chin is maintained parallel to the floor. The head is tilted forward gently till a stretch is felt in the back of the back. It is advised to hold this posture for about 5 seconds after which the head is slowly tilted backward till a stretch is felt throughout the upper portion of the cervical region(5). This posture is again held for about 5 seconds before returning to normal. This exercise can be performed multiple times a day as required.

Conclusion:

Suboccipital muscles are the medical term for neck muscles that lie under the base of the skull. These muscles are prone to straining from inappropriate posture and excessive muscle stress. This often leads to discomfort and pain in the head and neck region. Suboccipital exercises are special exercises meant for activating the neck muscles to reduce pain and improve flexibility and functions of the neck(6, 7). These exercises if done regularly, it can help in making the neck stronger and also help in improving the range of motion of the neck. There are large number of neck exercises that can be done. However, the most common types of exercises are the neck stretches, head lifts and forward & backward stretches. These are simple exercises which can be done anywhere and doesn’t require any additional equipment except maybe a chair or a mat which are readily available. It is very important to consult a medical expert before doing these exercises. Also, if any of the exercises feel uncomfortable, does not reduce the pain or makes the condition worse, it is advised to consult a physician immediately.

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