Headaches, Trauma and the Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor
The RCPMi has been considered a muscle of importance in chiropractic literature for a long time. It’s only been a recent phenomenon where more mainstream medical science has started to look at its role in headaches and trauma. Two such studies examined the RCPMi in 2016.
The first study was published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology. They saw that patients with atrophy in the RCPMi had more severe concussion symptoms and a worse prognosis. You can check out the abstract here: Effect of the suboccipital musculature on symptom severity and recovery after mild traumatic brain injury
The second study was published in the presigious headache journal, Cephalgia. The authors found that patients with chronic headache tended to have more hypertrophy in the RCPMi than controls. You can check out that abstract here: Correlation between chronic headaches and the rectus capitis posterior minor muscle
In case you weren’t paying attention, you should probably find those 2 outcomes to be a little strange.
On one hand, having smaller RCPMi had worse outcomes with concussion symptoms. On the other hand, having larger RCPMi was more likely to be associated with chronic headaches.
Granted we are dealing with 2 different conditions, but one of the biggest problems with chronic concussive symptoms is chronic headache. It would seem like there should be some overlap. What gives?
How Can That Small Muscle Cause So Many Problems? There’s a few unique things about these muscles.
- The RCPMi does not connect into bone like most muscles do. It connects into a piece of tissue called the myodural bridge. That means it has a direct link into the outer covering of the brain which is known to be very sensitive to pain.
- The RCPMi is too small to provide much in the way of meaningful movement of the head and neck. Inside the belly of this small muscle are abnormally large amounts of prorioceptors called muscle spindles. Proprioceptors help provide feedback to the brain about joint position and movement.
- Changes in the RCPMi can deform the myodural bridge which changes movement in cerebral spinal fluid. Abnormal movement of this fluid is associated with headache.
So as you can see, even though the RCPMi is small it carries a large baggage of neurology with it.
What’s Happening in Headaches and Concussions?
This is where things get a little interesting, because we don’t really know how this muscle is causing problems. More evidence is showing that there is a correlation between this muscle and headaches, but we don’t really know anything about causation yet.
With that being said, this is mostly just speculation on my part, so here it goes.
In my office we are always striving to create symmetry in the structural positioning of the head and neck.
When there is an injury like a trauma or whiplash, you create injury in some of these small muscles of the neck. When these muscles are injured, the brain loses some critical feedback mechanisms that helped to maintain proper positioning of the head and neck.
The injury also creates asymmetrical tension on the myodural bridge. This abnormal tension on the dura stimulates the sensitive pain receptors in this tissue leading to head and neck pain. There have even been cases where cutting this muscle can relieve a patient of chronic headache. That same tension on the dura may also be creating abnormal flow of cerebral spinal fluid which may lead to chronic effects of brain physiology.
Our success rate in taking care of patients with chronic and post-traumatic headache are upwards of 85%. While we don’t measure the activity of the RCPMi, it may help us understand why we get the results that we do.
Real Patient Testimonials
I can’t say enough how much my life has changed under Dr. Chung’s care. After 10 years of chronic pain and being dismissed by my neurologist, I came to Dr. C. He was caring, and really listened. After only 2 visits, I have already had a tremendous reduction in my pain! I feel like a new person.
I can't say how much Dr Jonathan Chung has given me back a full quality of life. Migraines was my daily focus, brought my on by a minor car accident few years before. I thought I was going to live with pain medications for the rest of my life. After seeing 2 neurologist prior I was convinced that was my life. But I never stop searching for holistic approaches which led me to Keystone Chiropractic. Thank you.
Dr.Chung has been a huge part of my journey to getting back to how I was before my dizziness and vestibular issues. Under his care I am now better than how I was before and I am able to live a normal life again. He is passionate about his patients and he’s such a great person. I’m so happy he’s my doctor! His staff is amazing as well!