Occipital Muscle

Occipital Muscle (OM): Origin, Function, and Pain

An occipitalis muscle is located on the back of the skull, also known as the ‘occipital belly.’ Some anatomists consider the frontalis and the occipitalis are two different muscles. In contrast, the rest of them consider it the components of the same muscle unit, the epicranius, which is also named as ‘occipitofrontalis.’

The occipitalis muscle arises from the occipital bone and inserts into the epicranial aponeurosis. It is relatively thin, rectangular in shape, and attached to the occipital bone.

A large part of the occipital bone forms the skull baseline at the backside of the head, and the mastoid process of the temporal bone is found at the back of the ear. The occipitalis muscle expands a few inches upward. It terminates at the aponeurotic, a fibrous covering on the skull’s cap located between the occipital and temporal bones.

Origin Highest nuchal lines
Insertion  Epicranial aponeurosis
Nerve Supply Posterior auricular nerve
Blood Supply Occipital artery

OM: Origin & Insertion

The occipital muscle originates from the lateral two-thirds of the superior nuchal lines. They insert their muscle fibers superiorly along the epicranial aponeurosis and posteriorly to the lambdoid suture. 

OM: Blood supply and Innervation

It is innervated by cranial nerve 7’s posterior auricular branch (also known as the facial nerve). This nerve transmits electrical impulses from the brain to the occipitalis muscle. Moreover, the occipital artery supplies blood to this muscle as well.

OM: Functions

The main purpose of this muscle is to move the scalp from the anterior to the posterior portion of the skull. The occipitalis works with the frontalis and aids in human facial expressions by forming the raised eyebrows and creases on the forehead. A severe injury to the occipitalis or nerve damage will result in decreased scalp movement. 

An ape also possesses an occipitofrontalis muscle, but it serves a much more important purpose than expressing facial expressions. It assists in keeping the head balanced concerning the vertebral column by pulling back on the skull. The extra physiological function of the apes’ occipitofrontalis is that they are not evolved into bipedal creatures like humans.

Occipital Neuralgia (Pain)

Occipital neuralgia, also known as occipital pain, occurs due to the injury and swelling in an occipital nerve, which goes through the brain. It causes a severe tearing, palpitation, or shock-like pain in the uppermost neck, back of the head, or behind the ears, called an occipital headache.

Most often, the pain of occipital neuralgia starts in the neck and spreads higher. People can confuse this type of headache with a migraine or other types because many symptoms are usually the same. Although both of these conditions may seem alike, their treatment is very different, so you must visit your doctor to get the right diagnosis.  

Symptoms of Occipital Neuralgia

A headache that occurs because of occipital neuralgia can be incredibly distressful. The pain is abrupt, intermittent, penetrating, shooting, or shock-like. It can remain from a few seconds to a few minutes. It is also possible to experience persistent palpitation, burning, or aching between the spasms. It is usually felt at the point where the neck connects to the skull, and it affects several areas, including:

  • Neck pain
  • Sensitivity to Light.
  • A pain that emits from one side of your head, down your neck, and to your back.
  • Aching while brushing hair.
  • Redness in eyes.
  • Eye-watering. 

Causes of Occipital Neuralgia

There are various causes associated with occipital neuralgia, including strained nerves or tension in the neck muscles. The condition can result from an injury to the head or neck. The occipital neuralgia can also be primary or a secondary condition. Secondary conditions usually have an underlying disease.

Various other conditions can contribute to the development of occipital neuralgia, such as:

  • A condition known as osteoarthritis, especially in the upper cervical spine, can pinch the nerves.
  • Compression of the nerves in the cervical spine because of degenerative disk disease
  • Tumors that affect nerve roots
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Injury in occipital nerves
  • Diabetes
  • Gout
  • Infection

Occipital Muscle Treatment

Occipital neuralgia can be treated in several ways, depending on the severity of the condition. However, one of your doctor’s first recommendations is to try home treatment methods. An individual with occipital neuralgia may benefit from the following options for coping with the pain and discomfort caused by the condition:

  • Heat/Ice Therapy: The use of ice therapy may lessen local swelling and alleviate pain in the area. Place an ice pack below the base of your skull while you are lying down. Like an electric heating pad, heat therapy may be more effective in bringing you relief. The application of heat to the afflicted area causes the local blood vessels to dilate, thereby increasing the blood flow to the neck, which helps to lessen muscle tightness in the area. The cold/heat source should not be applied for more than 20 minutes simultaneously. Use a barrier between the skin and the temperature source, such as a hand towel.
  • Taking NSAIDs: These are non-prescription medications that are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve). Taking them may be beneficial for reducing inflammation and relieving headaches and neck pain. Make sure to follow the instructions on the labels of these medications and talk to the pharmacist if you have any questions about using them safely.
  • Therapies: Some therapies that can also help relieve strained nerves are mentioned below:
  • Neck massage: Touch the base of the skull gently with fingertips. This massage can assist in releasing tension and calming tight muscles. You can also use a rolled towel under your head and neck when lying on your back. The towel’s pressure can provide you with a soothing massage. Stop the message immediately if it aggravates your pain.
  • Chin Tucks Exercise: Occipital neuralgia may result from poor posture that stresses the nerves in the neck by stretching strengthening the muscles. Stand with your upper back opposed to the wall, feet, and shoulder-width apart, and keep your hands at the body sides. Take a step forward, tuck your chin down, and pull your head back as far as it reaches the wall. Make sure you turn your head back straight without any tilting back or forward as you do so. Be in this state for five seconds before rest, and redo ten times. Stop the exercise if you experience pain or discomfort.
  • Anesthetic Injection: If the conservative methods do not work, your doctor may inject you with a local anesthetic beneath your occipital region. Local anesthetic injections usually provide instant relief that can last up to 12 weeks.
  • Surgery: Depending on the cause of the problem, your doctor may recommend surgery to reduce the pressure on your nerves. 

Conclusion

Occipital neuralgia can be extremely painful. Although there are a variety of treatments available if the underlying cause is diagnosed and addressed timely and effectively, you are more likely to manage it successfully. It’s not a life-threatening condition, but it’s painful. If you’re experiencing symptoms, make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.

References

  • https://www.healthline.com/health/occipital-neuralgia#outlook retrieved on March 12, 2022.
  • http://www.spine-health.com/blog/occipital-neuralgia-what-it-and-how-treat-it retrieved on March 12, 2022.
  • https://www.vedantu.com/biology/occipital retrieved on March 12, 2022.
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