What is Computer Neck and why does it cause your head to hurt?
There are a number of reasons to get this type of problem, and working a desk job is one of the most notable. There are 8 small muscles under the base of the occiput (the big bumpy part on the back of your head). These muscles are called the suboccipitals because they are connected underneath the occiput.
They are small but responsible for a lot of work lugging an 18-20 lb head around. When you tilt your head down to read something on your desk, or more so when jutting your chin forward to look at the computer screen, these muscles are hard at work. These movements are often over exaggerated in the work place and done repetitively all day long. This leads to strain and overuse. Often the tension or pain will creep down into the shoulders. Sometimes it finds its way up to the back of the head or even across the scalp to just above your eyebrows. By the time this happens, you’re probably already in the grasp of a headache.
You mean there are more side effects?
As a side effect of these repetitive neck motions the muscles on the sides and front of the neck will often get sore and tight as well. These flat muscles are called the scalenes. Once they become tight, they tend to continue being tight until massaged out. Because of the location, it’s really hard and impractical to try and stretch them. It’s not uncommon to feel a burning or pulling sensation when a massage therapist performs deep tissue work and trigger point therapy on them, however, you’ll likely be grateful when it’s done.
Slumping can cause pain
This is by far the most common structural issue I have come across with headache clients. These 8 little muscles get so overworked that they can’t help but end up in spasms and develop trigger points. Trigger points (TrP) can develop in tight or damaged muscle tissue and often show up as nodules (knots) of bundled tissue. When pressed and released, they can release the pain pattern across a whole muscle or muscle group.
Your spine can be twisted or injured which will trigger a headache
I find that my clients also store a lot of emotional baggage in the muscles of the shoulders and neck. By far and large, headaches of this nature are the most common ones mistaken for migraines, and much more frequently than you might think. Most of my “migraine” sufferers don’t generally seem to have the symptoms of migraines and are “fixed” by tension headache techniques within minutes.
What do I do to diffuse the headache?
I like to work the neck with my client lying on their back. With the head being as heavy as it is, I can use gravity to get good pressure into the muscles. I like to perform a couple of stretches like the one mentioned in #2 above. The passive stretching is done much easier by someone else, which lets you focus on relaxing. Typically, I’ll combine multiple techniques such as steady direct pressure, hot towels, and essential oils to address the problem from all the angles I can fit into a session. Muscles really respond to multiple techniques at once.
So what can you do right now for this pain? A slow series of exercises can relieve headache pain.
1. Lie back in a tall chair or on a bed to allow your neck muscles to rest and recover at night.
2. From a standing position, drop your chin to your chest and let gravity stretch out those muscles for 30-90 sec. You can also make big, slow, full circles with your neck to loosen things up.
3. Get 2 tennis balls and put them in a long sock and tie it off so they don’t roll around or slip. Lie down with the tennis balls nuzzled up under the base of your head on either side of your spine. Lay there (as long as it’s comfortable) up to 2-5 min. Gravity will take your head and apply pressure to those muscles with the tennis balls. *hint – depending on your size/structure, you may need to hold the tennis balls with your hands to keep them from sliding under the weight of your head.
4. Use a tool such as a Thera Cane or an accu-massager to pinpoint tension in this area and release the trigger points (tight bundles of muscle, TrP). Find these bunched up “knots” and apply pressure slowly for up to 1-2 minutes at a time to get them to let go.
5. You can us Essential Oils to relieve and relax Computer Neck. Use a drop or two of Therapeutic grade peppermint essential oil on the chin or under the nose and/or rub 2-4 drops on the base of the head under the occiput. The scent of peppermint has been shown to reduce or relieve headaches. The oil itself has been shown to absorb into the skin and relax musculature.
6. Use an ice pack. Put an ice pack or cool towel across your forehead and under the base of the head at the occiput.
So whether you work in a desk job or slump in front of a tv, you now have a solution for “Computer Neck” headaches.