Headaches can be a complicated thing because there can be so many different causes. There are also multiple different types of headaches. That being said, it is possible that your posture may have a relationship to your headache.
Disclaimer: This blog is for general information purposes only. Headaches can be caused by serious medical conditions so always seek medical attention. Go to the emergency room if you are experiencing the worst headache of your life, a sudden severe headache, or a headache with confusion, fainting, high fever, numbness/weakness/paralysis on one side of your body, stiff neck, difficulty seeing, difficulty speaking, difficulty walking, nausea, or vomiting.
A headache from your neck?
As you guys may already know from my previous content, I don’t believe there is a such thing as “perfect” posture, but I do think certain positions are not ideal for us to be in for a prolonged time.
Posture can have a direct impact on headaches if they are what is known as a cervicogenic headache. Cervicogenic headaches are a headache that is secondary to something going on with your neck.
This type of headache commonly starts at the base of your skull and wraps up and around to the forehead. Usually this type of headache occurs on one side.
The difference between a cervicogenic headache and a migraine is that this type of headache is coming from something mechanical whether it be tight muscles or something going on with the cervical spine. A migraine is a chemical reaction going on in the brain.
The body is an interesting thing. Many of us don’t realize the impact that the musculoskeletal system has on the body. We don’t think about how it’s possible that tight pelvic floor muscles could make us have to urinate all the time; or how tight neck muscles can cause headaches. Now I am not saying that urinary frequency and headaches are always caused by muscle tightness but it’s probably more common than you think.
As someone who experiences semi-frequent headaches, I know how difficult it can be to figure out what is causing your headache. I know when I get a headache, I run through the list: is it my neck, am I dehydrated, is it my sinuses, or is this one actually going to be a migraine?
Differentiating between headaches can be very difficult which is why you should consult with your doctor.
So how does posture relate to headaches?
Well, our head directly connects to our neck so it’s no surprise that the posture of your neck can impact headaches.
Forward head posture is a major culprit in increasing headache symptoms especially if the headache is stemming from your neck. Forward head posture is basically when your chin starts to drift forward. If your ears are way out in front of your shoulders, you are in a forward head posture. This happens to a lot of us when we are working on the computer for a while.
In this type of posture, the muscles underneath the base of the skull (called the suboccipitals) are really shortened. When a muscle is shortened for a prolonged time, it can then become tight. Tightness in the subocciptals can cause neck pain and headaches. Think about the location of these muscles and you can see why tightness here could cause a headache.
An easy correction for this is to keep your head and neck up right over your body and your chin in a slightly tucked position. An exercise called chin tucks (aka cervical retraction) can be helpful in reversing this position. I will link a video on this for you guys soon.
With migraines, posture won’t have as much of a direct impact because this type of headache is chemical in nature. That being said, many times when you experience another type of headache such as a migraine or a sinus headache you tend to go into poor postural positions. It’s just the natural instinct of the body, when you’re in pain, you don’t usually want to sit up tall and straight. So if you work on correcting your posture, it still may help a little bit because you’re not holding yourself in a position that will cause your neck muscles to get tight. No one wants a migraine and a tight neck.
The upper traps
To understand how the upper trap muscle can relate to headaches we have to look at it’s location. Sometimes we don’t realize how far up the upper trap actually goes. The upper trap muscle attaches at the top of your shoulder and also into the base of the skull. This is why tight upper trap muscles can also play a role in headaches.
The upper traps activate and shorten when you shrug your shoulders up.
So if we think about posture, if you tend to keep your shoulders in an elevated position, (up by your ears), this muscles is going to get tight. When it’s tight, it can cause headaches or make headaches worse.
An easy fix is to drop your shoulders down. You may have to do this multiple times throughout the day as many of us tend to have a habit of keeping our shoulders in a shrugged position.
If you notice that you’re getting a headache at the end of your work day, it could be related to posture. It’s possible that you tend to hold a certain position all day leading to your headache. Try working on these posture tips and see if it helps!
If you sit all day for work, I highly suggest checking out my 5 day program to reverse the effects of sitting. It’s totally free and in this program we work on strengthening muscles that get weak with sitting and stretching muscles that get tight.
Other things you can do relating to posture and headaches
Sometimes we live with things that we think we have no control over. We might think, well I am someone who just gets headaches. While it may be true that some of us do have chemical based headaches, some of us may be experiencing headaches stemming from our neck. When this is the case, there are natural solutions to this.
Physical therapy can be really helpful in treating cervical based headaches. Your physical therapist can assess if the headache is stemming from the cervical spine or tight muscles and treat you accordingly.
Yoga can be helpful if your headache is stemming from tight muscles due to postural positions. Yoga can help stretch tight muscles, strengthen weak opposing muscles, and it also teaches you how to keep these muscles relaxed, which may be the most important part. Going for a massage might help make you feel great but if you go back to old habits and hold these muscles tense, the cycle just repeats.
To wrap this all up, yes poor posture can cause headaches in some people. For those that this is true, this should be encouraging because it’s something you have control over and can work on!
I hope you found this helpful and that you were able to learn a little more about your miraculous human body.
“Headache When to See a Doctor.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 June 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/headache/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050800.
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