Keep Getting Headaches? Try Correcting Your Posture
If I asked you what causes your headaches, what would your answer be? Probably staring at a screen too long, dehydration, poor diet or stress. You might be right, but there’s another cause that few people know about and even fewer understand: your posture.
Postural causes of headaches are a fascination of mine and by treating headaches as a physical condition I’ve been able to relieve symptoms for people who have been living with headaches for many years, providing both immediate, short-term relief and long-term management.
Posture-related headaches are especially prevalent in people who spend long hours at their desk in a stressful environment – which I’m sure sounds familiar to many people in London. Misdiagnosis may lead people to accept treatable headaches as an inevitable side effect of their career, or become dependant on painkillers to relieve the symptoms without addressing the cause.
It’s Not All in Your Head
The difficulty with diagnosing and treating posture-related headaches it that the location of the tension or damage that is causing the pain is not the same as the location where the pain is felt. We’re naturally used to pain and its cause being in the same place, so most people would never expect that a muscle in their neck or shoulder could be inducing a headache.
This happens due to two closely related phenomena: trigger points and pain referral. Trigger points are tender “knots” of muscle fibre that can become stiff, irritated or painful, while pain referral is when the sensation of pain is located in a different part of the body than its cause.
Postural headaches are often caused by knots in muscles in the neck, jaw or shoulder, the pain for which is felt further up the head, commonly a pressing and tightening sensation on both sides of the head. The exact mechanism for both trigger points and pain referral is not yet entirely understood, but treatments that address them have proven to be highly effective.
For example, knots or other trauma in your sternocleidomastoid muscle – the largest muscle in your neck that runs from behind your ear to your collarbone – can induce dizziness, blurred vision, nausea and headaches. Manual therapy that releases the trigger point in this muscle can immediately relieve symptoms, which are often confused with migraines.
Another posture-related cause of headaches is irritation of the nerves in your spine, just below your skull. This can be caused by stiffness in the bones in your neck or a muscle spasm, with the symptoms being a stiff neck and pain in one or more areas of the face. Again, pain refers upwards in a very predictable fashion, and when a patient complains of pain in a specific part of their head, we can reliably follow it down to a particular vertebra or joint.
Same-Day Relief, Long-Term Solution
When treating a posture-related headache, the first step is to rule out other causes. We do this by seeing if we can replicate the symptoms of the headache; if there’s a physical cause we should be able to reproduce it by moving the head into the problem position. If we can isolate the location the pain is being referred from and relieve symptoms with manual therapy, we can confidently say that we’ve found the cause of the pain.
Relief is often immediate, but symptoms will recur if the cause of the muscle tension or damage is not addressed. Solutions may be as simple as repositioning the height of your monitor or getting a better office chair to reduce strain on your neck, but for more developed postural problems we prescribe a mix of manual therapy and exercise programmes that loosen up tight muscles and strengthen muscles to provide support for overloaded areas.
Long-term, keeping posture-related headaches at bay requires eliminating bad work habits and making sure that you’re keeping your body active, strong and balanced. The more you look after yourself outside of work, the less the physical and mental stresses of work will affect you.
If you’re suffering from headaches that may have a postural cause, feel free to book an appointment by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7093 3499, and I’m always happy to answer any questions you have.
Sports and Spinal physiotherapist