Headaches and Posture – An Important Connection

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It is estimated that 2.5% of the population, or over 7 million people in the U.S., experience headaches that are related to poor posture and musculoskeletal imbalances (cervicogenic headaches).  A cervicogenic headache is defined as a headache associated with neck pain and stiffness. Typically, these headaches only affect one side of the head or neck, often beginning at the back of the head and migrating toward the side and front. Additionally, it appears that this type of headache is 4 times more common in women than in men.

Unfortunately, cervicogenic headaches often cause those who experience them to develop further faulty movement patterns to compensate for the pain they experience, leading to symptoms such as back pain, eye strain, dizziness, shoulder pain and difficulty sleeping. How do we avoid falling into this vicious cycle of pain and compensation?

Let’s first look at the basics of human anatomy.

The skull is the bony portion of your head, which rests on top of the upper part of the spine (cervical spine). Muscles and ligaments surround and support these bony structures, allowing them to connect to other bony structures in your upper back (thoracic spine) and shoulders (scapula, clavicle and humerus bones). The muscles we will focus on when discussing overall posture and headaches are the upper back and shoulders (trapezius, levator scapulae), neck (sternocleidomastoid, deep neck flexors), and chest (pectorals).

During daily activities it is not uncommon for us to assume a “forward head” position.  This term refers to the head projecting

forward, disrupting the alignment at the upper cervical spine and head. When this occurs, the muscles in the front of the neck (deep cervical flexors) become weakened and the muscles in the back of the neck and upper back become tight. Over time, these imbalances can be amplified by our tendency to sit for prolonged periods with our shoulders rounded forward and upper back rounded. Just look around and observe people wherever you are reading this; my guess is that the majority are demonstrating this posture.

In addition to posture, other factors should also be considered. Breathing patterns can affect weakness and tension in the neck and upper back, further encouraging cervicogenic headaches. We all need to learn to breathe more from our belly, allowing the diaphragm at the bottom of the lungs to fully expand on inhalation and contract on the exhalation, instead of in the upper chest. Try it now- place one hand on your stomach, just above your navel and the other at your chest bone. Breathe in and feel how your hands move. Your lower hand (by your navel) should be the hand that is moving the most, if it isn’t, practice breathing from your belly by expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale. It may take some practice, but it is extremely beneficial for posture and for your nervous system.

What can we do to avoid cervicogenic headache or improve our symptoms?

If you experience headaches similar to those described in this article, you can begin by integrating some easy exercises into your daily routine that will help. As previously mentioned, breathing is vitally important. Take a few minutes every day (I like to practice just before I eat) to focus on your breathing, encouraging “belly breaths” for at least 5 inhalations and exhalations. You will find that even just a few breaths can relieve tension and calm your nervous system.

Additionally, you can address weakness and tightness in the muscles of your upper back and neck using the following exercises.

To improve the strength of your deep neck flexors:

Roll a small towel and place it beneath your upper spine, just beneath your skull. Lie on your back and practice gently pressing your upper neck into the towel roll by slowly nodding your head (your chin should move down toward your throat). Work up to a 10 second hold, repeating up to 10 times.

To improve your upper back posture:

Roll a large towel or blanket tightly into a long cylinder. Lay on your back with your spine on the roll, allowing your arms to reach out to the sides with your palms facing up. Breathe from your belly, allowing the muscles of your upper chest and back to relax. Hold for at least 30 seconds.

If you are experiencing frequent headaches and recognize the symptoms of faulty positioning described in this article, the therapists at Vita can help! We will provide a comprehensive evaluation of your condition and create a customized plan including exercises, manual treatment and activity modifications as needed to relieve your symptoms. For further information on scheduling your complementary consultation click here .

 

By: Colleen Baughn

 

Source : http://download-v2.springer.com/static/pdf/218/art%253A10.1007%252Fs10194-012-0436-7.pdf?token2=exp=1430758328~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F218%2Fart%25253A10.1007%25252Fs10194-012-0436-7.pdf*~hmac=97d74c9b1a62455a2c9bf40d4f640b0fcf9c580da94a62b38c1a91fac43c0919#page9

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