Anatomy of the Occipitofrontalis and Its Role in Headaches

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Have you ever wondered how it's possible to raise your eyebrows? Many muscles control your facial expressions, but as the textbook The Muscular System Manual (MSM) explains, there is one that is responsible for raising the eyebrows: the occipitofrontalis. This muscle stretches from your eyebrows all the way to the back of your head. It gets its name from its two distinct parts, known as bellies: the occipitalis and the frontalis.

Anatomy of the Occipitofrontalis

  • Occipital Belly

    This section of the muscle is located at the back of head, and its movement causes the scalp to move backward, as the MSM notes. It attaches to the frontal belly of the muscle via the galea aponeurotica — a tough layer of fibrous tissue that covers the upper part of the head. This part of the muscle gets its nerve supply from a branch of the facial nerve.
  • Frontal Belly

    The frontal belly is located above your eyebrows, according to the MSM. It draws the scalp forward, helping you form facial expressions. The movement of the frontal belly can wrinkle the skin of the forehead. This belly gets its nerve supply from a different branch of the facial nerve.

The muscle attaches to many surrounding muscles of facial expression, including the procerus, corrugator supercilii and the orbicularis oculi, explains the MSM. By moving the skin of the scalp and allowing you to raise your eyebrows, it helps you form expressions of surprise, shock, recognition and fright.

Tension Headaches

According to a study in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery (FPS), tension headaches may involve the occipitofrontalis. These types of headaches can arise if the muscle is overworked, such as in patients with drooping eyelids or excess upper eyelid skin. In fact, a tension-type headache is the most common form of headache, with an average lifetime prevalence of 46 percent.

If you suffer from chronic tension headaches, an overactive occipitofrontalis could be to blame. Fortunately, medical professionals can offer treatment, such as the injection of onabotulinumtoxin A into the muscle, as explained by a study in Toxins. This injection may decrease the frequency and intensity of the headaches. Another option is to remove part of the muscle that works with the occipitofrontalis called the corrugator superciliaris, according to the study in JAMA FPS. These treatments aim to relieve the overworked muscle and help reduce your headache symptoms.

Cosmetic Procedures

You may know there are operations to alter the eye shape or remove excess eyelid skin. The study in JAMA FPS states that this procedure is known as blepharoplasty, and it's been shown to help treat tension headaches, in addition to providing aesthetic benefits.

The occipitofrontalis plays an important role in facial expression and can seriously impact a person's quality of life if overworked. A tension headache or migraine may also have a dental origin, such as teeth grinding, so your dentist can work with you and your doctor help identify the source of the problem. If you have consistent headaches and want to seek treatment, do not hesitate to reach out to your medical or dental professional.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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