What’s Causing my Headache: Part 2. Muscle Referral Patterns

What’s causing my headache?  This multiple article series will help you figure out what has gone wrong within your body to create the presentation of a pain somewhere in the head.
I can never find the write images to communicate my message, so join me as I learn to sketch again and draw on my ipad, note 4, and with pencil/pen/and charcoal.

What’s causing my headache? The Muscle, Nerve, and Brain Connection.

Nerves function similar to electrical wiring that is capable of different volumes of intensity

There are numerous nerve endings that communicate and innervate every muscle and tendon in your body.

A muscles main functions:

  1. Move the bones and joints of the body to create motion.
  2. Stabilize our spines and support upright posture.

Muscles absorb force, become flexible, or tighten depending on the job the brain and spinal cord signal them to do.  All of these adaptations are signaled by the nervous system.

It’s very important to remember that the demands we put upon our muscles create a long term signal that will often be “remembered” in our body.  Very similar to a booted computer pattern.

Your nervous system will utilize your muscles to protect your spinal cord and brain if your body becomes threatened.  If a muscle feels a threat, it will go into “lockdown” and the tone or amount of signaling from your nervous system will turn up, creating muscle Hypertonicity.

Hyper – Excess |  Tonic-Tone

This is a chart of common referral patterns from trigger points in muscle.

human-body-muscle-diagramHypertonic muscles are a common cause of Headaches.

Hypertonic muscles are often causes by:

 1) Injuries

When the body is injured it will turn up the tone of a muscle to compensate for the injury. The “memory” of the trauma can be remembered between your electrical system (nervous system) and the muscle. As the body puts more demand on the muscle over time it can become hypertonic.  The longer the muscle stays in the hypertonic state, the more difficult time your body has resting.

Long term tight muscles often contain trigger points which have been shown to link into numerous areas of the head and face. Trigger points are little bundles of muscle spasm that appear after a muscle has been under long term stress.  When you press on a trigger point, pain will often travel to another area of the body. Trigger points that are linked with headaches can come from sports injuries, falls, or whiplash from a car accident.

Take a look at the sketch below of the injured and hypertonic muscle sending signals (yellow arrows) back to the brain again.Muscle-Nerve-Brain

These excess signals can converge upon the brain, creating a tipping point within your central nervous system that creates a headache flair up.  Pain signals (called nociception) are cumulative, and I believe reach tipping points in the nervous system causing “flair ups.”

2) Poor Posture

Posture, or the way we look when standing or walking, is a collective of nerve messages, and tissue capacity.

If certain tissues (muscles, and tendons) lose their extensibility and malleability, our posture will change over time.

If the tone of muscles groups change, the support system of our bony alignment and how we present in a 3 dimensional plane will change.

Poor posture often precludes headaches.  Compensations in nerve signaling are made that eventually leads to compression of the upper neck muscles and excess tone to them.

poor-posture-precludes-headachesIn this drawing we see the head in front of the central line of vertical.  The areas in red represent the muscles that are put under excess stress.  The three ares of the muscles most typically causing headaches are the upper trapezius and levator scapulae, the sub occipitals and the muscles of the TMJ (temporomandibular joint).

If you think your headaches are being cause by your poor posture a few solutions could include seeing a chiropractor, stretching, soft tissue release, and exercise. These  approaches can create a global shift in your posture.

3) Joint imbalance

In brief….an imbalanced joint can cause an imbalanced muscle and vice versa. (see part 1 for more details)

4) Shallow Breathing

(See part 4)

5) Stress

(See part 5)

What to do?

Seek a Chiropractor who will address Muscular as well as Joint alignment.  Some common techniques performed for muscle release are:

  • PNF
  • Active Release Technique
  • Percussion
  • Myofascial Release Technique
  • Therapeutic Massage
  • Trigger Point Release
  • Neuromuscular Re-education

Get your FREE muscle consult at day wellness here!

Read the full series: What’s Causing My Headache:

Part 1. Spinal Joint Alignment
Part 2. Muscle Referral Patterns
Part 3. A Functional Medicine Approach
Part 4. Posture A Headache Cure
Part 5. TMJ Headache Relief
Part 6. Food Sensitivities – Coming Soon


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