Prolotherapy for Suboccipital headache

Prolotherapy treatment for Suboccipital headache

Ross Hauser, MD

In this article, Ross Hauser, MD will discuss Prolotherapy treatment for Suboccipital headache

University researchers in Korea are helping to confirm that cervical sympathetic syndromes (pain and functional problems) caused by instability in the neck are real problems and related to weakness of neck ligaments and muscles. One of the problems they are addressing in their research which appeared in the Journal of physical therapy science is a problem seen many times in our office – suboccipital headache. In this new research, the Korean team isolated on muscle fatigue.(1) In our research we isolate on cervical ligament weakness. Muscles get fatigued because they are in spasm from trying to stabilize an unstable neck. A unstable neck gets that way because of ligament damage, weakness and laxity. There is a connection and the connection causes Suboccipital headache.

Another new study (December 2017) in the Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics brings together observations from previous studies and clinical outcomes to suggest that cervical spinal manipulations that help “unfreeze,” or move the neck about, would help eliminate pressure in the muscles and neck and thereby reduce or alleviate Suboccipital headache.(2)

As we have documented in our research and discussed in our articles on Over Manipulation Syndrome, when the ligaments are exposed to continued stress, they will slowly stretch. Repeated stretching such as from excessive high velocity manipulations will cause them to elongate and deform. The stretched out cervical and capsular ligaments of the spine will cause instability of the spine. When this goes on for too long, the ligaments stretch to the point of no return, and are unable to hold the vertebrae in place. The vertebrae shift and start to cause pain and other symptoms of spinal instability.

You can see how this could lead to a pattern of even more manipulations, because the vertebrae are now shifting more frequently. But manipulations at this point will only make things worse. The attempt at realignment with manipulations will not hold, but will stretch the ligaments further, potentiating the symptoms of over-manipulation syndrome.

“BodyParts3D, © The Database Center for Life Science licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.1 Japan.”

Suboccipital muscles

When a patient comes in with headache and neck pain related to the base of the skull we see  on examination the hallmark finding of tenderness in the suboccipital muscles.

The function of the suboccipital muscles is underrated, which is confusing because these four fine-tuning muscles are vital in stabilizing the position of the head by helping provide stability in the upper cervical region.

The four muscles are the:

Two terms to quickly identify before we move on:

Because of its location, the obliquus capitis inferior plays an important role in the static and dynamic stability of the atlantoaxial joint (the joint between the first and second cervical vertebrae C1-C2), especially when there is upper cervical ligament laxity. When cervical neck instability is present the obliquus capitis inferior muscle pulls back the transverse process of the atlas (C0 vertebrae), pulling the atlas back or in extension.

When all four muscles contract on one side, they pull on the neck to that side. When they contract on both sides, they extend the head on the upper cervical spine; this extension is produced at both the atlanto-occipital and atlantoaxial joints. The forward head posture position causes the cervical spine to straighten or go into a kyphotic position, which puts more strain on the structures of the upper cervical spine to hold the top two vertebrae, thus the head goes into extension.

Damage of soft tissue and increase of tension in neck limits stationary contraction of deep cervical muscle, posing difficulty in sustaining upright neck posture. With this process, cervical pain and cervicogenic headache occurs and as pain occurs or aggravates from the motion of returning to normal posture.

Back to the Korean study at the top of this article

According to the researchers, this study was conducted to compare and analyze influence of craniocervical flexion and suboccipitalis relaxation in cervicogenic headache patients of their cervical muscular fatigue, tone, and headache intensity.

In a discussion of their research, the Korean team cited:

Cervicogenic headache patient with forward neck posture has high muscular tone and fatigue in superficial muscles to keep unstable head from gravity, which easily induces postural disorder and pain. Consequently, effort to keep upright posture is necessary and exercise intervention is most crucial.1

Spasm and tension in the cervical muscle fixes

What we see in the medical literature is a clear understanding that these headaches are caused by spasm and tension in the suboccipital muscles and the upper trapezius muscles that extend from mid back to base of skull.

This was discussed in a second new study from Korean medical university doctors.

In this research the doctors found that the tone and stiffness of the suboccipital muscles and upper trapezius were higher in patients with cervicogenic headache than in healthy subjects. Here muscle tone refers to the degree of tension in relaxed skeletal muscle, and the most significant factor affecting the level of tone is muscle contraction (spasm) even in a resting state.(3)

Prolotherapy for Suboccipital headache

In 2009 we published research in the journal Practical Pain Management  that showed weak or loose neck ligaments and/or tendons may act as headache triggers in some people.

In our study, patients received Prolotherapy injections with a 15% dextrose, 0.2% lidocaine solution at their bony attachments including the lamina, facet joints, transverse processes of cervical vertebrae C2 to C7, the mastoid process, superior and inferior nuchal ridges on the occiput, posterolateral clavicle and superior angle of the scapula; suboccipital and erector spinae muscles, including longissimus capitis, iliocostalis cervicis, longissimus cervicis, scalene posterior, splenius capitis, splenius cervicis, semispinalis cervicis, and semispinalis capitis; sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, levator scapula, and serratus anterior muscles; as well as the C2-C7 facet joints, including these joints’ articular capsules and the intertransverse ligaments. No other therapies were used. The patients were asked to reduce or stop other pain medications and therapies they were using as much as the pain would allow. (The video below demonstrates).

Our findings  strongly suggest that Prolotherapy can play a role in decreasing intensity level, frequency, duration, number of associated symptoms and light sensitivity in patients with headache and migraine pain.

If you have questions about Prolotherapy for Suboccipital headache, get help and information from Caring Medical staff

1 Yang DJ, Kang DH. Comparison of muscular fatigue and tone of neck according to craniocervical flexion exercise and suboccipital relaxation in cervicogenic headache patients. Journal of physical therapy science. 2017;29(5):869-73. [Google Scholar]

2 Malo-Urriés M, Tricás-Moreno JM, Estébanez-de-Miguel E, Hidalgo-García C, Carrasco-Uribarren A, Cabanillas-Barea S. Immediate Effects of Upper Cervical Translatoric Mobilization on Cervical Mobility and Pressure Pain Threshold in Patients With Cervicogenic Headache: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics. 2017 Nov 1;40(9):649-58. [Google Scholar]

3. Park SK, Yang DJ, Kim JH, Heo JW, Uhm YH, Yoon JH. Analysis of mechanical properties of cervical muscles in patients with cervicogenic headache. Journal of physical therapy science. 2017;29(2):332-5. [Google Scholar]



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