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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carter

Unlocking Relief: A Guide to Suboccipital Release and Headache-Alleviating Stretches

Suboccipital muscles are a group of small muscles located at the base of the skull. They are responsible for various head and neck movements, but when they become tight or tense, they can lead to headaches, neck pain, and other discomforts. Suboccipital release is a therapeutic technique designed to alleviate these symptoms.

What is Suboccipital Release?

Suboccipital release is a manual therapy that focuses on relaxing and stretching the suboccipital muscles (Hall, et al., 2008). By targeting these specific muscles, therapists can reduce tension, improve mobility, and mitigate pain symptoms.


Several techniques can be employed for suboccipital release, including:

  1. Trigger Point Therapy: Applying direct pressure to the knots or “trigger points” in the muscles, which can help in releasing tension (Simons, et al., 1999).

  2. Dry Needling: This involves using a thin needle to stimulate the muscles, facilitating relaxation (Dommerholt, et al., 2013).

  3. Cross Friction Therapy: Utilizing a rubbing motion against the muscle fibers to break down adhesions and increase blood flow (Cyriax, 1984).


  • Reduction in Headaches: Suboccipital release has been shown to decrease the frequency and intensity of tension headaches (Fernández-de-las-Peñas et al., 2006).

  • Improved Range of Motion: By targeting the tight muscles, patients often experience an increase in neck and head mobility (Hanten et al., 2000).

  • Alleviation of Pain: General comfort and pain reduction in the neck region (Grieve, 1978).

At-Home Stretches for Headache Relief

For those suffering from headaches, particularly those associated with tension in the suboccipital muscles, there are a few stretches that can be done at home to help relieve pain. Always consult with a healthcare professional like a chiropractor before trying new exercises to ensure they are suitable for your specific condition.

  1. Suboccipital Stretch:

    • Position: Sit comfortably in a chair with your hands clasped behind your head.

    • Action: Gently tilt your head forward, bringing your chin towards your chest, and use your hands to guide the stretch. You should feel a gentle stretch at the base of your skull.

    • Hold: 15-30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times (Page, 2012).

  2. Levator Scapulae Stretch:

    • Position: Sit or stand upright. Place your right hand behind your back, and your left hand on the top of your head.

    • Action: Gently pull your head to the left, aiming your chin towards your left armpit.

    • Hold: 15-30 seconds on each side, repeat 2-3 times. This will stretch the side of your neck, targeting the muscles that often contribute to headaches (Lewit, 1999).

These simple stretches can be integrated into your daily routine and may provide relief from tension headaches. However, they are not a replacement for professional treatment. If headaches persist, it is advisable to seek a professional assessment from a chiropractor.


Suboccipital release offers a promising solution for those struggling with discomfort in the head and neck region. This evidence-based approach supports patient wellness through personalized care, which can be further explored at Move Chiropractic in Angier, NC.


  • Hall, T., et al. (2008). Clinical and anatomical predictors of headache.

  • Simons, D. G., et al. (1999). Travell & Simons' Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.

  • Dommerholt, J., et al. (2013). Dry needling in orthopedic physical therapy practice.

  • Cyriax, J. (1984). Textbook of Orthopaedic Medicine.

  • Fernández-de-las-Peñas, C., et al. (2006). Manual treatments in myofascial trigger point pain: A systematic review.

  • Hanten, W. P., et al. (2000). Range-of-motion outcome following static progressive stretch using heat.

  • Grieve, G. (1978). Modern Manual Therapy of the Vertebral Column.

  • Page, P. (2012). Cervicogenic headaches: An evidence-led approach to clinical management. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.

  • Lewit, K. (1999). Manipulative Therapy in Rehabilitation of the Locomotor System.

Feel free to visit Move Chiropractic in Angier, NC, to learn more about this treatment, or visit our website at You may also contact us at or call/text 984-355-3587.

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