A lot of us are very familiar with the muscles of the legs or arms, thanks to our personal trainers, gym buddies, or even some memory of school P.E.
However, some of us may struggle to recall the muscles of our head, face or neck. The muscles of the face and head are easily overlooked yet they are some of the busiest muscles in the body.
With an ever-increasing number of people experiencing pain in their neck, migraines or jaw tension, I think it is useful to know the basics of our head, face and neck anatomy.
What’s in my head?
Our brain…which means we need a secure structure to protect it…our skull. The skull is made up of the Cranium and the Viscerocranium (face).
I know when I think of my skull, I can picture the skeleton, but not always the muscles surrounding it.
One way to understand these muscles is to think of our expressions:
When we lift our eyebrows, we are using our Frontalis Muscle (forehead).
If we are surprised, we may wrinkle our forehead using the Galea aponeurotica.
The zygomaticus minor and major aid in the articulation of our mouth, nose and cheeks; these muscles do a lot and are always involved in micro facial movements.
If you ever suffer from headaches, a really useful muscle to know is the Temporalis. It is the most powerful muscle of the TMJ (the temporomandibular joint), and it controls the closing of the jaw. If you grind your teeth or clench your jaw, it can create tension here, which in turn can result in headaches.
The Masseter muscle works with the Temporalis to lift the mandible, as well as protract it. It is the ‘chewer’ muscle.
What muscles might cause a pain in the neck?
The Trapezius muscle pulls your scapula towards each other and helps extend your neck – once we understand this, it’s easy to see how much strain our trapezius must be under daily if we slouch or lean forward looking at our laptop or phone screen. This constant pull creates a lot of tension in our upper back and up our necks, eventually resulting in stiffness and pain. It is essential to mobilise regularly throughout our working hours, and stretch the upper, mid and lower portions of our Trapezius.
How can I stretch my trapezius?
Upper Trapezius Stretch
- Sit in a chair, with your feet flat on the floor.
- Reach behind your back with your left hand.
- Reach above and over your head with your right arm so that your right hand is over your left ear.
- Use your right hand to gently stretch your head toward your right shoulder.
- Hold gently for 30 seconds, breathing deeply, release.
- Repeat on the other side.
Try and do this stretch twice a day, particularly if you are working at a desk/on a computer.
Mid Trapezius Stretch
- Stand with good posture and an engaged core.
- Clasp your hands together in front of you.
- Look down between your arms.
- Push your hands as far forward as possible
- Gently pull your chin nearer your chest to feel the stretch particularly in between your shoulder blades.
- Hold this stretch gently with deep breathing for 30 seconds.
Repeat 3 times, once or twice a day.
Lower Trapezius Stretch
- Sit on the floor with your right leg extended straight in front of you.
- Bend your left knee and cross your leg over your right to place your foot flat on the floor on the outside of your right knee.
- Grab your left ankle with your left arm.
- Place your left elbow on the inside of your left knee as you twist your shoulders to the right.
- Reach your right arm behind you and place your palm flat on the floor with the arm straight.
- Keep your spine straight and lean back without releasing your left ankle.
- Hold very gently, breathe deeply, for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Try and do this at least once a day.
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