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Frontalis and Occipitalis – Pain & Trigger Points

On this page you will learn how to take action against pain and trigger points in the frontalis and occipitalis muscles.

Both of these muscles can cause a variety of headaches when tension and trigger points are present.

In many cases, it’s possible to relieve these muscular problems with a self-massage. On this page you will learn how to do so.

Besides, I’ll explain …

  • which ailments these muscles can cause.
  • where they are located.
  • which function they provide.
  • how to palpate them.
  • how to massage them.

1. Pain Patterns & Symptoms

I’ll describe the different kinds of pain and symptoms that these two muscles can cause.

It’s not necessary that you understand right away where these muscles are located, but first learn where they can cause pain.

Learn about their location in the section “Origin & Insertion”, how to massage them in the section “Self-massage”.

1.1 Pain patterns of the frontalis

Tensions and trigger points in the frontalis can cause pain in the area of the forehead.

This is why this muscle often contributes to headaches in the forehead.

1.2 Pain patterns of the occipitalis

Tensions in the occipitalis can lead to local sensitivity of pressure and pain in the back of the head.

Trigger points, on the other hand, can transmit pain to distant areas.

  • Diffuse pain on the side of the skull that extends to the top of the head and can cause deep-seated pain.
  • Earaches
  • Eye pain
  • Pain behind the eyeball
  • Pain on the eyelid

1. 3 Symptoms & ailments caused by the occipitalis

Trigger points in the occipitalis can lead to such high sensitivity of pressure at the back of the head that you can no longer place your head on a pillow.

The muscle is only loaded with the weight of your head against the pillow, but even this can lead to severe pain.

2. Origin & Insertion

The frontalis and occipitalis can be classified as a single muscle, the occipitofrontalis.

On top of the skull, they emerge with the scalp.

The anterior portion of the frontalis blends with the skin above the eyebrow and with the fibers of the orbicularis oculi.

The posterior compartment, the occipitalis, attaches with the linea nuchae.

3. Function

Both muscles work together and are responsible for movements of the forehead and eyebrows.

3.1 Function of the frontalis

The frontalis lifts your eyebrows and wrinkles your forehead.

This facial expression is used, for example, to express surprise.

3.2 Function of the occipitalis

The occipitalis supports and reinforces the function of the frontalis.

It pulls the scalp backwards and thus puts the connective tissue under tension

This helps the frontalis to contract, to develop more strength and to produce a more extreme facial expression.

So, it reinforces the function of the frontalis. When these two muscles contract at the same time, the eyes open widely, and the forehead is pulled up.

A facial expression that occurs when something is about to happen to you that you’re afraid of. In this function, it expresses horror.

4. Frontalis & Occipitalis – Trigger Point Activation

Various factors may overload these two muscles.

Especially constant activity and trigger points in other key muscles are frequent triggers for overloads and the activation of trigger points.

4.1 Overload and activation of trigger points in the frontalis

Examples

  • Permanent frowning
  • Anxiety
  • Satellite trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid

4.1.1 Permanent frowning

The muscle can be overloaded if you constantly frown your forehead, for example in order to show your attention to an interlocutor.

Of course, there may also be other reasons to wrinkle your brow, for example if you think intensively about something.

4.1.2 Anxiety

Anxious and “stressed” people usually contract this muscle for a long time (mostly subconsciously).

They’re always on the run from something, scared of something, or worried. In the long term, that will overload the muscle.

4.1.3 Satellite trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid

Trigger points in the SCM (sternocleidomastoid muscle) can cause satellite trigger points in the frontalis, as it is located in the pain zone of the SCM.

That’s why I recommend taking a good look at this muscle.

4.2 Overload and trigger point activation in the occipitalis

Here it is mainly visual difficulties and tense cervical muscles (muscles of the cervical spine) that result to be problematic.

4.2.1 Visual difficulties

When someone can’t see well, he or she often wrinkles the brow and tries to open the eyes by lifting the brows. I’m sure you’ve observed that on yourself before.

Visual difficulties stimulate this behavior and can therefore overload the muscle.

4.2.2 Satellite trigger points in the neck muscles

Almost without exception, all the muscles of your rear cervical spine cause pain in the back of your head when they are tense.

The following muscles are particularly important:

5. Palpation

The best way to palpate these two muscles is to feel them under contraction.

Simply lift your eyebrows several times and follow the steps below.

1

To feel the front fibers, place your fingertips directly under your hairline.

2

To feel the rear fibers, place your fingertips diagonally above your ear.

6. Self-massage of the Frontalis & Occipitalis

For the self-massage of these two muscles, I recommend you to use your fingers or a massage ball.

As a massage technique, you can choose from ischemic compression, precise massage strokes or the pressure-motion technique. On this page, I will show you how to massage the muscle with your fingers and the precise massage strokes.

Note: Try to relax during the massage and maintain deep and even breathing.

6.1 Self-massage of the anterior fibers of the occipitofrontalis

  • Shape your hand like a shovel.
  • Place two to three fingertips on the muscle in the area of your forehead.
  • Examine the entire area of your forehead and search for painful tensions.
  • As soon as you find one, stroke over it a few times.
  • Do not slide over your skin but pull the skin over the muscle.

6.2 Self-massage of the posterior fibers of the occipitofrontalis

You have already felt the occipitalis – in the chapter Palpation. And this is exactly the area you massage, in the same way as the area of the frontalis.

However, there is still a small spot in the muscle which you probably will miss without a detailed guide. We don’t want this to happen, this is why I’ll show you where it is situated.

  • Place a finger in the center on the back of your head and move your chin a few times towards your chest.
  • Feel the line protruding with each “forward tilt” of the head.
  • Feel the hollow next to this line.
  • From here, move your finger two to three centimeters sideways and look for a very small, yet noticeable hollow.
  • Take your time – this small hollow is not easy to find.

In this hollow, there is the spot I just spoke about.

  • Press into this hollow and check for sensitivity of pressure.
  • In order to massage this small spot, press into it, and…
  • … perform some very small circular movements.

References

  • Calais-German, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993. Print
  • Davies, Clair, and Davies, Amber. The Trigger Point Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide For Pain Relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., Print
  • Simons, David G., Lois S. Simons, and Janet G. Travell. Travell & Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1999. Print.
  • Schünke, Michael., Schulte, Erik, and Schumacher, Udo. Prometheus: Lernatlas der Anatomie. Stuttgart/New York: Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007. Print