The Suboccipitals – Don’t underestimate their importance.

The Suboccipitals are some of the most interesting muscles that you possess. This will give you an idea as to where they are placed:


This is a deep layer group of muscles that lie underneath the trapezius insertions. Their purpose is to allow the head to rock up and down, and from side to side.

Here are 7 reasons why they are so fascinating:

  1. They are linked to eye movement.
    One interesting thing you can do is to place your fingers on the correct muscle and ask the person to read, eyes going left to right and up and down, and then to feel the muscles twitch as the person reads. The change of tone in the muscles is fascinating. This also implies that a number of eye induced headaches can have a suboccipital component to them.
  2. They have an unusually high number of muscle spindles, 36 spindles per gram.
    This is high, especially when you consider that your glute maximus muscle has 0.7 spindles per gram. The job of the spindle is to detect changes in the muscle length. Your brain is reliant on these muscles to give it a feel of your position at any given moment. A builder or carpenter will place a spirit level on top of a structure that he/she has built, in order to see if it’s straight. The suboccipitals work in much the same way.
    Imagine for a moment a cat, (one of those with 9 lives), falling off a wall. The cat will use its eyes and inner ears to work out where it is in space. Once that has been done it will manipulate its suboccipitals so that it can position its body for a safe landing. Your neck works in much the same way, helping you move efficiently and safely.
  3. Imbalances in the suboccipitals will alter the position of the head, and that can have impact on the shoulders, lower back and hips. A study done by Moseky et al suggested that you were 3 to 6 times more likely to suffer from lower back pain if you have neck issues.
  4. The suboccipitals can be affected by stress.
    What’s the first thing you do if an unexpected firecracker goes off near you?
    crackerYou rotate your head upwards while pulling your neck down toward your shoulders. Guess which muscles spring quickly into action. The problem with long-term stress, the kind that we experience on a more consistent basis, is that you can shorten these muscles. Unresolved fears and stresses will change your posture and your body will eventually take on a compromised position as part of its posture. Trigger points will develop in the muscle and that will bring about pain.
  5. The group of muscles can lead to headaches. (See the above point)
  6. Tight suboccipitals have been linked to tight hamstrings. Aparicio et al reported on this. This ties up with what Thomas Myers wrote about in his book, Anatomy Trains. Myers writes about a line of fascia called the Superficial Back Line. Fascia is what holds the body together. You have a line of fascia that starts above your eyes, stretches over your head, down your neck, lower back, divides and travels down the legs and ends under the feet. People who have had their suboccipitals released generally improve on the finger to floor distance test.

    sub superficial

  7. Bad posture, cycling in an aggressive position, running with too much forward lean, or arms too low will place stress on the muscles.


Mike Roscoe.
Mike Roscoe


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