Headaches are common. In fact head pain has been reported as the fifth leading cause of emergency department visits in the US. Now of course “head pain” is as non-specific as it comes and we’re most likely talking about everything from migraines and tension headaches to life threatening pathology but none the less, headaches are common. You probably know someone who suffers from regular (by which I mean chronic) headaches or maybe that someone is you. In fact, if you’re female, I’m sorry to say that you’re statistically more likely to suffer from headaches than your male counterparts. So what does posture have to do with any of this?
Posture and headaches
Posture plays a large role in headaches, especially cervicogenic headaches. Cervicogenic headaches are those headaches in which mechanical forces in the neck are the source of the headache. These headaches usually onset with some neck pain, mostly suboccipital (where the back of the head meets the neck). The reason for this is poor posture. I’m going to stop here to allow you a minute to look at how you’re sitting… go ahead, take a look… if you’re like most, you’re most likely slouching without appropriate low back support, shoulders are rolled forward and worst of all (for headaches anyway) your head is in too much anterior translation (which is fancy talk for your head is too far forward when compared to your upper back). This is called anterior head translation, cervical protraction or forward head posture (I’ll stick with forward head posture for now to make things easy). So why does this matter?
Forward head posture
Forward head posture could be to blame for your headaches, for your neck pain, for your upper back pain, for world hunger…. ok not world hunger but the first 3 are true. Research indicates that for every inch that your head is forward when compared to your upper back (for every inch of anterior translation) it’s like your head gains 10 lbs! That’s 10 more lbs for your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles to carry for every 1 inch! That means your muscles have to work that much harder just to keep your chin from dropping towards your chest and the increase in constant muscle contraction can put pressure on suboccipital nerves. Not to mention the constant pull at the base of the back of your head by these tightened muscles. Rene Cailliet MD, the former director of the department of physical medicine and rehailitation at the University of Southern California and medical author said:
“Head in forward posture can add up to thirty pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine. This can pull the entire spine out of alignment.”
Just think about a 30 pound watermelon on your neck and you’ll get the idea.
By now you’re probably asking “So what’s next?” or “what can I do about this?” First things first, correct your sitting posture. Because we spend more time than we all should sitting at a desk, in front of a computer, in front of the TV… because we spend too much time sitting (which you should do less of but I’ll save that for another time) we can make a huge impact by correcting our sitting posture. This can be done a few ways but the easiest is to get a cheater, by which I mean a lumbar support roll. You may wonder why I’d say to get some support for your low back when I’m talking about your neck and head and I understand your inquisition. Let me explain, there’s a little cheat that chiropractors, physical therapists and other spine professionals know that almost no one else does. If you can support your lower spine in proper position, the rest of your spine just sort of falls into place. That means that your shoulders will roll back and it will be almost impossible to let your head move forward without noticing it. Now you can use anything from a McKenzie lumbar roll (which is my personal favorite) to a roll of paper towel or a rolled up bath towel, the way you get support doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you are supporting your low back. For proper placement watch this video where I demonstrate proper sitting posture using a lumbar support pillow:
Finally, I advise you to get yourself to a chiropractor. Chiropractors are experts in the spine and posture. They can tell you what exercises and stretches you can do to correct poor posture and provide treatment for your headaches. In fact, a recent study showed spinal manipulation (what chiropractors do) significantly improved cervicogenic headaches. If you’re looking for a chiropractor in St. Charles, IL make an appointment at (630) 442-0057 or feel free to ask any questions.
By: Phillip Gamble
White Oak Family Wellness
405 Illinois Ave #2b
St Charles, IL 60174