HEADACHES AND POSTURE
Over the past six months we have seen a significant increase in the number of people presenting with headaches related to poor posture. Already, 4.9 million people in Australia suffer from headaches or migraine (that’s roughly 15% of the population) at an estimated cost of $35 billion to the economy (1). Of those, 71% are women and 86% are working age (1). Throw into the mix a sudden change in working conditions and the complex stressors that we are all dealing with, and this painful condition is becoming even more prevalent.
A large portion of the population are now working from home and we know that many people have found it difficult to set up their home workstations for optimal posture. This has lead to the sudden increase in posture related neck pain and headaches.
Poor postures often occur when in prolonged positions such as computer work, driving or standing. During these sustained tasks it is difficult to maintain good positioning and we often lean forward, look down at our keyboard or workbench for too long, and slouch in our seat. This can put extra strain on ligaments, muscles and tendons of the neck and upper back causing them to become overstretched and painful If you are constantly in the incorrect position day after day, your muscles will develop tension, the joints will become very stiff and your movements can become limited. If this continues, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain good posture due to stiffness and the pain cycle continues.
Headaches caused by the neck are known as cervicogenic headaches. Cervicogenic headaches tend to originate from the upper cervical spine, a region that has nerves supplying the head and scalp as well as a number of muscles that attach directly onto our skull. Excessive tension or strain to this area can affect the way the nerves in the area process your pain in the brain and the sensation of pain into the head or face can occur as a result of a problem in the neck. This can occasionally be associated with light headedness and dizziness. Typically, these headaches are felt at the base of the skull or behind the eye, but this can vary significantly.
Top Tips for reducing posture related headaches
- Improve your home work station
We know that many people have found it difficult to set up their home workstations for optimal posture and this is one of the most common reasons for aggravating the structures in the neck that can lead to headache symptoms and neck pain. See our article on tips for setting up your home office https://symmetry.physio/symmetry_blog/postural-pain/
Regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines. When we exercise, the body releases endorphins, which are often considered the body’s natural painkillers. Exercise can also reduce stress and improves sleep quality. Consider at least 30 minutes of daily cardiovascular exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling.
- Try to mimic your regular work day
If you normally take public transport or drive and then have a short walk to your place of work, factor this into your day and try to go for a short walk at the start and end of your day. Similarly, if you get up frequently when at work to go to a print room, or move around the office, try to do this at home even if you have everything you need close by. This is what we call incidental movement or exercise, and our working from home lifestyles have created a significant reduction in this. Ideally, aim to get up out of your seat, every 30 – 45 minutes stand up and relieve your body of the pressure of sitting. In addition to this we should aim to take a 10-15minute break to move about the house every 2 hours. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you because it can be hard to remember when you are focussed on work.
- Strengthen your postural muscles
Improving strength in the muscles that maintain posture can lead to significant changes in headache symptoms and neck/upper back pain. Your physiotherapist can easily assess your strength and endurance. From there we can provide a structured strengthening plan based on your individual needs that can easily be done at home.
- Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water each day helps to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep our organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.
It is important to have a physiotherapy assessment to determine if the headache is coming from the neck and establish if your posture is contributing to the problem. If appropriate, treatment can be aimed at relieving the stiff joints, stretching the tight muscles, or strengthening the muscles to significantly improve your posture and reduce the problem. If symptoms persist, we will communicate with your G.P. to ensure further investigation and management advice.
1. Migraine: Migraine Australia (2017)
— Headaches and Posture – guest blog by Symmetry Physiotherapy