That Tension Headache May Be a Pain in the Neck

Article from Brigham Health Hub, Written by Thomas P. Mecke, DC

One very common cause of tension headaches is rooted in the neck, resulting from muscle tension and trigger points.

What causes tension headaches?

At the base of the skull, there is a group of muscles called the suboccipital muscles. They can cause headache pain for many people. These four pairs of muscles are responsible for subtle movements between the skull and first and second vertebrae in the neck.

The suboccipital muscles may become tense and tender due to the following:

  • Eye strain
  • Wearing new eyeglasses
  • Poor posture
  • Grinding teeth
  • Trauma (such as a whiplash injury)

Pain from the suboccipital muscles commonly feels like a band wrapping around the head. Also, tension in these muscles may cause compression of a nerve that exits the base of the skull. This can trigger pain that wraps over the head and above the eyes.

How can you relieve tension headache pain?

Here are some tips to help you manage the cause of your tension headaches:

  • Get an eye exam. If you’re straining to read, or keep tilting your head up and down to use those off-the-shelf glasses, you may need a new pair of glasses.
  • Redesign your workstation. Simply raising your computer monitor or getting a document stand can help reduce repeated head tilting that can strain the occipital muscles.
  • Avoid slouching and practice good posture. Consider trying yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi. All of these disciplines are great forms of exercise and all can help to improve posture. Also, you may want to consult a physical therapist, chiropractor, or movement therapist for exercises that are tailored to your need.
  • Get a 30-minute massage that concentrates on the neck and upper back. This can help relax your muscles and relieve your headache pain.
  • Try applying a hot pack to the base of the head. Do this for 15-20 minute intervals.
  • Stuff two tennis balls into a sock and tie it off tightly. Lie on your back on the floor. Place the tennis balls under the base of your skull and allow your head to compress against them. Gently rock your head back and forth and side to side for a few minutes.

When does a headache indicate a serious health problem?

Most headaches are painful but not dangerous. However, headache pain can be a warning sign of a more serious health problem. Learn when you should contact your health care provider to find out if your headaches are a sign of a more serious problem like a brain tumor.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.