How to Relieve Pain in the Base of the Skull

Tightness, stress, and pain at the base of the skull has long been an issue that required hands-on therapy from a chiropractor or massage therapist. The sub-occipital release maneuver performed by these professionals can open up the space between the skull and spine.

Patients with this type of pain pattern would ask, “Is there anything I can do for this at home?” And while there are a couple of stretches and make-shift remedies that I could recommend to temporarily reduce discomfort, they aren’t nearly as effective as the manual pressure release performed in-office.

But I recently discovered a tool that patients can now use at home to achieve a similar result as the sub-occipital release procedure performed by healthcare professionals:

The CranioCradle


When I first discovered the CranioCradle, I wondered if it could actually produce positive changes to the tight and narrow space within the upper neck. I also had some concerns about operator error (patients positioning it incorrectly). But I must say, after experimenting with it for a few weeks, those concerns were needless. Here’s my experience with it…

How I Tested It

I tried it two different ways. The picture above is how I’d suggest you use it as well – it feels more natural, comfortable, and relaxing when the head is cradled in this manner… but it can also be turned the opposite direction, with the sloping side beneath the neck instead. This approach, however, is a more advanced/progressive position, so it may create some discomfort for first-time users.

I tried it on a variety of surfaces, from firm and soft mattresses (including memory foam), to carpeted floors and on hardwood. I also used it lying flat on my back, as well as with my legs raised in the static back position.

I experimented with different durations of time, and times of day, to see if there was a difference in the outcome.

Here’s What I Liked Best

Resting on the carpeted floor was clearly the most effective. It was firm enough not to impact the pressure needed from the device, but not so soft that the device sunk down and became less useful. (Mattresses created inconsistent support, while resting on my hardwood floors was simply too firm for me to get comfortable.)

Lying flat is recommended, but combining it with the static back position provided a slightly deeper impact on the tissues that some may find beneficial.

The preferred time of day was in the evening, immediately before going to bed. There’s nothing wrong with using this earlier in the day, but the relaxation I attained at night before going to sleep was noteworthy. The reason this happens is likely due to the deep tissue-penetrating effects in this specific region of the spine. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which has a calming effect on the body.

What I Noticed

5-minutes was all it took to notice a change, but I set my timer for 7-10 minutes each night, and that became my preference. Once I was finished, I rested with my head flat on the floor for an additional minute or two. Each time I did this something interesting happened within 15-20 seconds… a distinctly warm/hot sensation permeated my upper neck. This rapid increase of blood infusing the soft tissues beneath the skull was almost addictive. I found myself looking forward to the sensation each time.

I also noticed that my sleep quality, which was already pretty good, was even better on the nights that I used the CranioCradle before bed.

What Patients Had to Say About It

I asked a variety of patients at my chiropractic office to try the device, and it was well-received. Comments ranged from “my neck feels comfortable; I can tell it’s doing something” to “I can feel my sinuses opening up.” 

Alternative Product Options

There are similar products on the market, but they vary in price and functionality.

The Upledger Institute International has their own version of this called the Still Point Inducer. While listed at half the price, it’s less specific to the sub-occipital space. It can help ease muscle tension and is noticeably firmer, but doesn’t quite have the same effect on the sub-occipital region of the spine as the CranioCradle.

The Cranial Therapy Centre in Toronto created BeCalm Balls. These are squishy, adjustable, and can be widened/separated along a cord. What I like the most about these is that there’s no operator error… Since they’re so soft, you don’t have to worry about placing them in the wrong spot. I also recommend these if you have a high-backed chair. You can place them behind your head at work, lean back, and it will passively (as well as inconspicuously) reduce tension in the upper neck without having to lie on the floor.

Who Would Benefit?

If you suffer from occipital headaches, or you experience tightness, pain, and discomfort in the back of the head or mid-to-upper neck, I recommend using a CranioCradle. If you’d like to relax at work or during a long trip (flight or car ride), I recommend the BeCalm Balls.

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