The connection between poor posture and headaches is well established. Poor posture causes muscle strain, changes in your breathing patterns and leads to a host of problems, including headaches. Neck pain and an occasional headache can easily become chronic if positive steps aren’t taken to get your posture back into alignment.
Poor posture results in the wasted use of muscle control against the forces of gravity. In addition to causing strain on the hamstrings and large back muscles important in maintaining posture, a condition called anterior head translation, or forward head posture, also places strain on your upper back and neck muscles. These muscles must work as though they are supporting an additional ten pounds of weight for every inch your head moves forward. The added strain puts pressure on the nerves in your neck and keeps upper back and neck muscles in a constant state of contraction, causing headaches.
Factors that contribute to poor posture and posture-related headaches include poor muscle tone, obesity, stress, pregnancy and high-heeled shoes. Personal habits and environmental concerns include a poorly assembled computer workstation, carrying heavy backpacks, and even the way you hold and carry an infant or small child.
Tension headache symptoms include mild to moderate pain, usually on both sides of the head or neck. In contrast, neck-related headaches are usually on one side of the head or neck. The pain associated with neck-related headaches may be severe.
The most important step you can take to alleviate or prevent these headaches is to improve your posture. Strength training that targets your back muscles and hamstrings is also beneficial as are alternative therapies such as massage, relaxation therapy, acupuncture, or chiropractic care.
Daily living, poor posture, and injury often result in tight neck muscles which can contribute to chronic headaches.
Gentle neck-stretching exercises can decrease this muscle tightness:
- Flexion Stretch – Chin to Chest: Gently bend your head forward while bringing your chin toward your chest. Stop when a stretch is felt in the back of your neck. Hold position for 15-30 seconds. Return to starting position. (Neck in midline position). Repeat above stretch five more times.
- Extension Stretch: Gently bend your head backward so that your eyes are looking up. Stop when a stretch is felt in the front of your neck. Hold position for15-30 seconds. Return to starting position. (Neck in midline position). Repeat above stretch five more times.
- Lateral Flexion; Ear to Shoulder: Gently bend your neck in attempts to touch your left ear to your shoulder. Stop when a stretch is felt in the right side of your neck. Hold position for 15-30 seconds.
Stretching your shoulders can feel good, and it can also improve your posture.
- Shoulder Rolls: Roll your shoulders down and back, starting with small circles and working up to larger circles. Do 10 circles backwards and then repeat forward circles.
- Arm Circles: With one arm at a time, make backwards arm circle with your palm facing out, thumb pointed up. Repeat 15 with each arm.
Daily activities can often cause tight back muscles. Over time this can result in significant back pain and increase your risk for back injury.
- Back Stretch: Contract your abs as you tip forward from the hips, bringing your hands down to the floor. Relax your head down and reach with your fingertips to stretch the back. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Wide Back and Shoulder Stretch: Contract your abs as you tip forward from the hips. Take the feet wide and bring the arms inside the legs, then wrap your arms around the back of the calves, grabbing onto the ankles. Gently pull with your hands to open the shoulders and stretch the upper back. Hold for 30 seconds.
Some headaches are worse than others, but those created by bad posture are common and easily corrected and prevented. Good posture is the key!