The sub-occipital muscles are small but very important muscles that sit at the back of the head and help to connect the head to the top of the neck. These muscles can tighten up and can lead to tension and sometimes headaches when the muscles are overloaded. The position of the head that can cause stress in the sub-occipital muscles is mainly the forward head posture. The two largest reasons we see this problem in our office are:

1. Activities that we perform that causes our head to sit in front of our shoulders, such as using the mobile phone, any hand held electronic devices, laptops, computers, fine detailed work such as sewing or jewellery making, cooking etc.

The longer one keeps their head in this forward position the greater the likelihood of  problems occurring in the upper neck.

2. Prolonged stressful periods will put our body into the fight or flight position, where the shoulders are rounded and the head is sitting forward. This will place, over time, undue tension on the sub occipitals.

So to break the self perpetuating problem of tight muscles causing more forward head posture and tightening up the muscles further it is a great idea to stretch those muscles. The reason why the muscles needs to be addressed and secondly and if there are any structural or functional issues in the spine, then these need to be addressed also. A holistic approach not only works best to deal with the initial complaint, but helps to get down to the cause of the problem and minimise too many future aggravations.


Lie on a mat with a couple of folded hand towels placed at the top, back of the head with arms relaxed and palms up. Hold the stretch by simply relaxing into it. If the stretch is not strong enough, try place something a bit firmer under a hand towel, such as a book.

Hold for 30 seconds, rest for 20 seconds or so and repeat.

Do daily.

If there are any aggravations of symptoms, reduce the height of the hand towels and try again. If the problem still persists, stop and see your neck chiropractor.