Suboccipital Muscles

Suboccipital Muscles


Suboccipital muscles are a group of four muscles that exist right under the head and above your neck area. In pure medical language, these muscles are present underneath the nuchal line and occipital protuberance. Suboccipital muscles include; 

  • Rectus capitis posterior major
  • Rectus capitis posterior minor
  • Obliquus capitis superior
  • Obliquus capitis inferior 

The muscles provide postural stability and enable neck extension along with rotation movements. The suboccipital nerve, which is generated from the dorsal ramus of C1, innervates the muscles. The suboccipital triangle, formed by three of the four muscles, is a frequent anatomic marker that locates the vertebral artery and suboccipital nerve. Most of the time, the tension in these muscles can cause severe headaches and neck aches. In this article, we will talk about the anatomy of these muscles, their functions, and their relation to neck pain. 

Anatomy of Suboccipital Muscles

The four muscles found under the prominence of the external occipital of the skull are called the Suboccipital muscles. The triangle of these muscles is named as a triangle of anatomic created by 3 of the 4 muscles of suboccipital. The edges of the triangle are created by the superolateral superior rectus capitis. It is the rectus capitis posterior major, which is superomedially, and the last is rectus capitis inferiorly. In this triangle, the nerves and vertebral artery of the occipital are found to be responsible for the head’s movement. The rise has been given to the suboccipital muscles by the mesoderm muscles. The occipital bone is created by the sclerotomes of the occipital and mesoderm, which has a complicated bond with the base of the skull.

The rectus capitis posterior major exist next to the rectus capitis posterior minor, which is the lateral side that enables the head of the human body to rotate. The suboccipital medial muscles are minor of the rectus capitis posterior. Between the dura mater (meninges’ outer membrane) and the muscle of rectus capitis posterior minor, a tissue bridge of connectivity is formed. The muscle has the most inferior position in the suboccipital is the obliquus capitis inferior. This muscle is the only muscle that has been not associated with the cranium. In the compartment of the suboccipital, superior obliquus capitis is the muscle with the lateral position.

Functions of Suboccipital Muscles

The basic functions of these muscles are 

  • Postural support 
  • Extension of head
  • Rotation of head 
  • Flexion of head

So these muscles support your head movements and posture. 

Importance in Clinical Practice 

Surgeons working in the posterior cervical spine or posterior cranial fossa must recognize the thses muscles as an anatomic landmark. The suboccipital triangle is a small area in the posterior cervical region where surgeons can see the vertebral artery. Contraction of these muscles can cause minor artery compression, lowering blood flow even more. Light-headedness and dizziness might occur as a result of the reduced blood flow. Moreover, constant movement or injury can strain the suboccipital muscles. 

Suboccipital muscles can cause headaches.

Cervicogenic headaches start as discomfort in one side of the neck and move to the head. Movement or palpation of the neck aggravates the pain. In this pain, you feel like a band is tightly stretched around your head, commonly misdiagnosed as a migraine. You may feel the pain in other body parts, especially around the neck and shoulders. Suboccipital muscles can be one of the causes of cervicogenic headaches.

In comparison to healthy controls, these muscles were shown to exhibit higher tone and rigidity. A connection between the suboccipital muscles and the dura mater has been discovered, dubbed the “myodural bridge.” The strain created by the suboccipital muscles has been postulated to cause tension inside the dura, resulting in typical cervicogenic headache discomfort. The C1-C3 nerves have also been linked to cervicogenic headaches, for which physical therapy can be used to treat these headaches. 

Surgical significance of Suboccipital muscles 

There is a surgical treatment called the posterior suboccipital approach in which surgeons remove the tiny piece of bone to treat fatal injury. This surgery can be done to the spinal cord or other joints like the atlantoaxial. This surgery is a bit complex because suboccipital muscles are closely related to veins and nerves. The triangle of these muscles indicates arteries and other nerve locations. This surgical approach that involves muscles and neurons can treat many other diseases. 

How to treat headaches caused by Suboccipital muscles?

The majority of headaches are unpleasant but not harmful. On the other hand, headache discomfort can be a sign of a more serious health concern. You may need to contact a doctor, but if the headaches are not too severe, you can treat them at home using easy techniques. 

  • Sometimes weak eyesight causes headaches. So you need an appointment with an eye specialist and buy classy glasses to avoid muscle tightness which causes headaches. 
  • Tension can also cause tightness in muscles, which is the main reason for these severe headaches. You must find the triggers and reasons in your life and try to avoid them. 
  • Massage is an ancient method of stress relief and pain management. A 30-minute massage focusing on the neck and upper back can also help relax muscles and decrease headache discomfort. 

See your doctor if these tips do not help to cope with your pain. 


  • retrieved on March 27, 2022.
  • retrieved on March 27, 2022. retrieved on March 27, 2022

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