Postural alignment as the cause for headaches

Did you know that the head weighs between 15 – 20 lb? When the neck is aligned correctly this weight is not a burden on the shoulder girdle or muscles supporting the neck and shoulders…… However with forward head posturing as occurs more frequently when using computers, doing deskwork or driving, if the head alignment is consistently held in front of the shoulders, the neck muscles are under strain in order to prevent the 15lb weight from the downward effect of gravity.

This can lead to activation of trigger points in the primary stabilizers – upper trapezius, levator scap, and splenius capitus muscles for example, and headaches can be triggered.

What can I do to provide relief from tension headaches?

Being aware of your postural habits is half way to solving the problem because there are several different deviations that could be contributing to your headaches that are easily correctable … For example notice how you hold your head. Keep your ear aligned with your shoulder over your hip knee and ankle as if you were using a plumb line as a measuring tool when standing, or over your trunk when seated.

At first this may feel uncomfortable since muscles which have been passive or under used are now firing and activated. My suggestion is to hold this posture for short periods of time and to perform this frequently (every hour of the day for 5 minutes at first). As your muscles strengthen, you will be able to hold your posture longer with less discomfort. After 1-3 weeks, the headaches should be significantly better or possibly diminish altogether. Also, as your postural muscles get stronger, the old way won’t feel as uncomfortable as it may now!

Further exercises may be required to continue strengthening the supporting muscles of the neck and shoulders. All Health Physical Therapy services give comprehensive training for a good do-it-yourself Home Exercise Program.

A physical therapist can guide you through a series of starting positions whereby the neutral or midline position of the head and neck can be maintained regardless of the arm or leg motions involved with the exercise. Learning how to stabilize your neck in neutral while dual tasking with daily activities or during sports is crucial for balance and efficiency of movement techniques. So there is greater benefit than release of muscle tension and relief of headaches. The movement patterns of the body and the ability to balance is also enhanced

Other conditions which can be treated with good postural guidance and stabilization techniques include Scoliosis and Disc Derangements

Further readings:

1.) Subbarayalu AV, Ameer MA. Relationships among head posture, pain intensity, disability and deep cervical flexor muscle performance in subjects with postural neck pain. J Taibah Univ Med Sci. 2017;12(6):541-547. Published 2017 Aug 12. doi:10.1016/j.jtumed.2017.07.001

2.) Fathollahnejad K, Letafatkar A, Hadadnezhad M. The effect of manual therapy and stabilizing exercises on forward head and rounded shoulder postures: a six-week intervention with a one-month follow-up study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2019;20(1):86. Published 2019 Feb 18. doi:10.1186/s12891-019-2438-y

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