Could my poor posture be causing my headaches?

Bored Female Office Worker At Desk
Got a headache? Sit up straighter at your desk? (istockphoto.com)

Is your head pounding after a long day of work deadlines and squabbling children? Everyone would like to think that the only cause of their headaches at the end of the day is something out of their control… work, spouse, children, bills, etc. In fact while those may contribute to how your muscles react, they may not actually be causing your headache. The way you sit at work, the way you hold your phone, the way you type on your computer, all of these things and many more of your daily tasks if not done correctly contribute to headaches. 

What causes headaches? There are a lot of reasons that people get headaches. One common reason for headaches, especially tension headaches is muscle tension and tightness. This tightness occurs all over the head and neck and can almost feel like there is a rubber band around your head sometimes. The tightening of the muscles is due to poor posture; your muscles are trying to adapt to the constraints that are being put on them.

Do me a favor – as you read this try to drop your shoulders. Try to push them towards the ground. Many of you as you do this will notice that they fall a considerable distance. Others may notice they fall only a little bit and others may notice that they do not fall at all. Those people who notice that their shoulders did not drop at all, sit up and try the exercise again. In all honesty when you are sitting up straight your shoulders should drop very little, if at all.  So if your shoulders dropped at all you have poor posture, which leads to shortening of some muscles and irritation of your spine and the discs. This shortening will cause that rubber band feeling on the head. Most often this pain is felt right at the base of the skull and if you push on it with your fingers you can sometimes get relief.

Now onto the next exercise: try to sit up straight. Sit up, roll your shoulders up and drop them down. How many of you noticed that you were slouched down and needed to make some significant adjustments? This brings your shoulders forward and puts your neck in an awkward position. This again puts some of your muscles in a shortened position and some muscles in a longer position. It is the shortening of the muscles that can cause tension headaches. The longer you sit like this the worse the muscles, the worse the headache. 

The difficulty with the two exercises mentioned above is that they are involuntary movements. If you are someone who gets stressed and brings their shoulders up to their ears, you do not realize you are doing it until at some point you take a deep breath and relax, which might not happen for a long while. Your shoulders could have been up there all day which means that your muscles had been working in an inappropriate position all day, and chances are you will not realize it until the headache has started. 

Here are some common office culprits that cause poor postures. One daily task that cause your shoulder to come up is talking on the phone, whether it is a cell phone or your desk phone. The longer you talk, the more the shoulder creeps up and some people just outright hold the phone with their shoulder. This causes an even stronger contraction and an even more intense pain. Also if your desk height is too high, that will force you to raise your arms up and therefore cause shoulder elevation. A monitor set at a height that is too low as well as sitting in an unsupportive chair will allow for slumping forward. Even carrying large bags will cause us to slump forward. Making sure that your desk is set up correctly is half the battle to avoiding this type of tension headache.

One of the things that I have my patients do in order for them to break these habits and alleviate the headaches is to set the timer on their phone or computer, for every 15 minutes or 30 minutes and when the timer goes off take quick stock of where their shoulders are and if they are slumping in their chair. When the alarm goes off it is also a good idea to stand up and allow the muscles to reset. Muscles need blood flow in order for them to function properly and not tighten up. Just standing at your desk for even a minute will allow for increased blood flow and may save yourself a headache.  


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