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Headaches & Migraines: Part 3 – Sub-Occipital Headaches

Susan Wallis
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Headaches and Migraines can be quite debilitating and can seriously effect our quality of life. Depending on the cause, they can take anywhere from hours, to days, or even weeks to dissipate.
Did you know there are THREE main kinds of headaches that have different causes and symptoms; Migraine Headaches, Tension Headaches, and Sub-occipital Headaches.
In this 3 part series we want to look at some of the causes and solutions of these Headaches, and what to expect if ignored.

In Part 1 and 2 of our series on Headaches we discussed Migraine and Tension Headaches. In Part 3 we will be looking at Sub-Occipital Headaches, the symptoms, causes, solution and what can happen if ignored.


Sub occipital Headaches are often dull and constant, that Sub occipital Headaches often feel like a dull pressure in the front of the head or under the back of your skull. It usually begins when you wake up and continues through to the going to bed, effecting concentration and sometimes causing light-headedness or dizziness. This type of headache seems to be less noticeable when you are active or busy, but becomes worse when tossing and turning, trying to get to sleep. Pain is usually felt deep in the base of the skull, then slowly extending either around the sides, or over the top of the head to the forehead and around the eyes. This can also cause some light and sound sensitivity.


This kind of headache is often a result of tension in the sub-occipital muscles (at the base of the skull), which is usually caused by or even resulting in misaligned vertebra in the neck. A hit to the head or other traumas, such as car accident or a fall on a hard surface can also be a cause for this type of headache. Also a restless nights sleep, tossing and turning can create a lot of tension in these sub-occipital muscles.


Hydration and Panadol can relieve the symptoms, but aren’t a fix. Keeping busy can help to ease the pain, but once you slow down the pain will come to the front again and trying to sleep or rest is less likely to help with this kind of headache. A Remedial Massage might help to relieve tension, however if the cause for the headaches is in fact structural, then a massage can actually make you feel worse. These are often the most simplest to treat with Chiropractic, with patients reporting relief with in a matter of hours.


If left untreated, these Headaches tend to become more frequent and last longer. Sometimes lasting four-six days at a time. They are a constant and debilitating headache that is there when you wake up and still there when you go to bed. Other problems that can develop from this kind of headache can be pain and restriction in the range of motion if your neck, noticed mostly when driving car or changing positions in bed. This causes tightness further down your neck, shoulders and upper back. This tension, pain, and headache then becomes self perpetuating.


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