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What Causes Headaches? Intro to Postural Headaches (and Neck Pain)

Updated January 27, 2023

So there you are, going about your day, when you start to notice a little bit of tension building at the base of your skull.

“It’s no big deal” you tell yourself… “it should go away soon”

But as the day wears on, the tension starts to build, and before you know it the pain has spread up the back of your skull and has reached your forehead.

Finally you admit defeat… you’ve got another headache!

What went wrong? Is there something you could’ve done to avoid yet another headache?

While there are many “triggers” associated with headaches, one of the most common triggers that we see in the clinic is poor posture.

How Poor Posture Causes Neck Pain & Headaches

Here’s how poor posture causes headaches (especially poor sitting posture over a long period of time):

1). As you get into a slouched posture, your spine gets into what we call a “forward head posture”. This is particularly true in sitting but can also happen in standing as well.

2). This forward head posture causes exaggeration in the 2 curvatures in your neck. The forward curve and the base of your neck moves farther forward, while back backward curve at the top of your neck compensates and moves farther backward.

3). Ultimately, the increased backward curve at the top of your neck (base of your skull) causes tightening of your “suboccipital” muscles, which run from your top couple neck bones up to the base of your skull.

4). This tightness not only feels bad on the muscles themselves, but it also places extra tension on the local suboccipital nerves, and voila you have yourself a headache!

Now that you know a little bit about how poor posture causes this type of tension headache, what can you do about it?

3 Tips to Eliminate Neck Pain & Headaches

– Tip #1: Correct your sitting posture: this tip is especially important if you sit in front of a computer all day at work. Correcting your posture can be easier said than done, but in general you want to make sure you’re sitting in a supportive chair, with your feet flat on the floor and your computer monitor at eye level. There’s bit more to this, which I’ll cover in a future blog post about “ergonomics.”

– Tip #2: Start doing chin tucks: when you perform a chin tuck, you basically reduce the 2 curves in your neck that have been exaggerated with your poor posture. To perform the exercise, first stand tall, and then gently pull your head straight back (think of your head sliding straight back, like when you open a drawer). Pull your head back as far as is comfortable, and hold the position for a few seconds. You can do this throughout the day, as long as it feels good.

– Tip #3: Squeeze your shoulder blades together: stand up from your chair every 20-30 minutes, get yourself tall, and pull your squeeze your shoulder blades together. Poor posture also leads to rounding of the shoulders, as well as tightness in your chest muscles. Pulling your shoulder blades back helps correct this tightness.

In future blog posts, I’m going to share more information about comfortable stretches to treat neck pain and headaches, and I’ll also share more information about how we treat headaches in the clinic, so stay tuned!

Good luck getting rid of your headaches!

– Luke Gordon, DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy/Owner of Gordon Physical Therapy)

P.S. If you’re sick of dealing with neck pain and headaches and want more information to help start eliminating them immediately, click here for immediate access to my FREE REPORT titled the “7 Best Kept Secrets for Eliminating Neck Pain (and Migraine Headaches)… and Staying Pain Free!”

Here’s the video version of today’s info about neck pain and headaches:

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