Who are the players in a whiplash event and what can you do to relax them? At the posterior base of the skull is a set of muscles called the sub-occipitals. They connect between the occipital bone of the skull and attach to several places on the first and second vertebrae. They articulate our heads in fine motor movements. Between two of the major muscle sets grow two rather important nerves: the greater and the lesser occipital nerves.
The greater occipital nerve starts out between C1 and C2, a.k.a. the atlas and the axis. It actually grows through part of the top attachment point of the trapezius. It is also sandwiched between two of the sub-occipitals to complicate matters. These muscles are more prone to go into eccentric spasm rather that concentric spasm. Concentric, remember, is when muscles contact to move bone, while eccentric is when it acts like a stabilizer, holding a limb (or head) in a fixed position. Both situations can burn up the available oxygen supply in the tissue and begin to over produce lactic acid.
When we are in correct posture, our body opposes the 33.5 lbs./sq inch load of gravity exerted on us most efficiently. However like the mighty sequoia, if we’re off even a few degrees up top, over time we invite trouble. In the trees case, it crashes to the forest floor. In our case, it means chronic neck and shoulder pain.
The average weight of a human head is around 10 pounds. If we spend our days working at a computer, driving, or in some other position that requires a forward head posture we can be off as much as 5 degrees. For each half a degree, the weight of the head relative to the supporting muscles is doubled. 10 lbs. x 5 degrees… Well it’s easy to see how that can lead to spasm of the neck muscles and nerve entrapment of the greater and lesser occipital nerves. Neuromuscular therapy, deep tissue, and sports massage therapy can greatly reduce if not out-right eliminate the achy painful effects of this in some times as little as three sessions. At Gray’s Anatomy L.A. we use a direct application of soothing neuromuscular, deep tissue, and sports massage therapy work to release the sub-occipital muscles. Time and time again this yields excellent pain reducing results.