Why Your Posture is Causing Your HeadachesJun 01, 2022
This week I’m talking about headaches, foggy and fuzzy heads and why your posture is likely to be responsible.
Headaches and migraines regularly affect over 50% of the adult population. On any given day over 15% of the world has a headache! That sucks so, so much especially when I know that there’s heaps that can be done to prevent and stop them. Many rely on painkillers to ease symptoms but they often only taking the edge off.
Having a foggy or a fuzzy sensation in your head is also so common. Most put it down to stress, being too busy or tired and don’t realise how important it is to tell their physio! It shocks me in the treatment room how many of you don’t tell me about your headaches or fogginess. When I probe about any regions of the body you have symptoms it eventually comes up, but you’ve often completely discounted that anything can be done to help, especially by a physio!
Your assumptions are limiting your recovery!
As I love to keep telling you, your beliefs, and assumptions about your body, including headaches and fogginess are limiting your recovery from them! You are stopping yourself living a pain free life because you aren’t aware a) that anything can be done to help, especially by a Physio, and b) that there is anything physical that can change your headaches. Hey, I’m not judging because you don’t know what you don’t know right?!
Attempting to ignore your weekly or daily headache because it’s caused by stress, work or too many hours at your desk, is doing your lovely body and mind a massive disservice. Your body is trying to tell you something, so please will you listen! I LOVE the Tony Robbins quote that says, “the purpose of pain is not to make you suffer but to make you take ACTION”. So good and true right?
Disclaimer – Sometimes something more serious is going on
Now I need this disclaimer that on the rare occasion, headaches can be a sign of something more serious going on, so if you are worried, go speak to your GP first. Things to watch out for are double vision, problems with your speech of swallow, dizziness or falling over and not knowing how you got there. When I woke up with meningitis a few years ago, my first thought was “this must be what a migraine is”! However, it quickly became apparent that it was something a little more than that so seek help when necessary.
The multi-pronged cause
For most of us however, the more likely cause of your headaches is “overload” and I’m talking both mental and physical overload. Rarely is a headache caused by just one thing. Normally it’s the combination of a whole bunch of things you’ve been trying to avoid dealing with or have been coping with pretty well with on the surface. However, underneath the surface, your body’s tolerance to both physical load and the stress being placed on it reduces, until it reaches a threshold when it waves its little white flag and suddenly you have regular headaches or fogginess. At this point, life gets rather miserable and even tougher as you try to plough on with all you have to do, through the pain and lack of clarity.
Overload of the emotional and physical kind
The micro-stress doses that build up
By overload, I mean stress. Yep, we all have it and have varying degrees of tolerance to it. There is no judgement here at which point that happens. We all have our own personal battles, me included, that will mean coping with certain stuff is hard, on any given day. Mostly it’s the little stress doses of the day that mount up to be an enormous stress dose. You know what I mean. The alarm clock waking you with a jolt when you are in a deep sleep. Text messages or emails as soon as you wake. The children not getting dressed quick enough to get to school on time. Being late. Getting stuck in traffic. Forgetting to do something. The phone calls whilst you are in the middle of something. The work that keeps getting interrupted by questions, emails, or the phone. The dog getting sick unexpectedly. The child or parent getting sick and needing your urgent attention. The busy diary crammed with stuff to do every moment of the day you don’t get a moment to yourself. And on and on it goes. No wonder your head hurts!
Not getting the hugs and party!
There is so much to do in the modern age and so many demands on your time and attention. It’s stressful and with stress comes a normal, physiological response, that was designed by primitive man to keep you safe from bears, tigers, and lions! Except there are no bears, tigers, or lions. We stay sitting at our desks pushing through to meet deadlines instead of running like stink to save your life! Sadly, you don’t then have a big hug from your clan and party to celebrate your survival with dancing, laughing and more hugging. You just stay sitting or driving or being busy doing. You don’t complete the stress cycle and burn it off. So, it continues day in, day out, building and building.
Why your head hurts
The normal stress response involves several things thanks to that marvellous hormone, adrenaline. It’s the one that kicks in making your heart race and your body feel a bit stiffer and tense, ready for running! It also changes how you breathe. You puff your upper chest up and breathe more shallow and quicker breaths at the top of your lungs. You use what we call the accessory muscles of breathing in your neck and shoulders to do this and help get more oxygen in your body, ready to run…..but you don’t run. So, you stay breathing like this getting tighter and stiffer, compressing the joints in your neck and ribcage, reducing your range of movement and quite possibly blood flow to these regions. And then your head hurts.
Think about how your fist would feel if you held it clenched for hours and days at a time. It would hurt and become very hard to move when you decided to let go and open your hand back up! Many of the muscles and joints in and around the neck and shoulder region “refer” pain up to the head. Common places you can feel pain from this referral are in the forehead, around the eye, at the base of the skull and in the temple region. Make sense now?!?....
The impact on your posture
So now think about what effect this ongoing low grade stress response and altered breathing pattern is having on your shoulders, neck and head and posture. Many of you believe it’s your posture that is causing your headache and often you are right BUT, and here is the big thing to realise, by trying harder to “sit up straight” or get your “shoulders back, head up”, you are actually making your pain worse! YES, it’s true. Most of you try too darn hard to have “good” posture, you are making yourself more rigid, tight, and compressed, and your own head hurt!
I’m sorry, not sorry to have to tell you this too! But you’ve got to know it to start changing those stubborn old beliefs about your body. When sitting you need to be much more slumped and relaxed. You aren’t meant to be bold upright when sitting! Think about 30% being the maximum effort you will put into your posture. Really it should be effortless, relaxed, easy, and balanced. Now put up your hand if that is you……. I thought not!
What your arms have to do with it
Now we need to talk about your arms. Hands up who feels strong and connected in their arms? Perhaps you feel those bingo wings are getting worse? Do you feel your neck and jaw working really hard whenever you have to lift stuff? The last two are more likely what you are dealing with. Many of you struggle to generate force in your hand and wrist when using your arm to do stuff. As a result, you must find force and power elsewhere….and that is your neck and shoulders.
Doing any type of arm loading from lifting and shifting to being more static when driving or at your computer involves all the muscles from your fingertips to shoulder being co-ordinated and working together. If the muscles in your wrist and hand aren’t powering up enough, the muscles around the shoulders and neck have got to do more. And that is why your head hurts and can feel stiffer after these activities.
Loads of you mention to me about arthritis in your hands or old wrist fractures that you’ve never fully been strong after. Even tennis elbow is a huge sign that you aren’t loading and co-ordinating the muscles in your arms in the right way. The sore bits are generally the bits that have been overloaded. The same applies to shoulders. BUT this is an article about headaches so let’s get back to that!
Nana Rendle is a fab example of how years of headaches can be caused by not using the wrist and hand correctly, overloading the shoulders and neck. I can’t wait to share that story with you in the coming weeks! She’s thankfully back slogging it out on the tennis court for the first time since school days and that is over 50years ago! Well done, Ma!
Those tummy muscles play a part too
The final bit of the puzzle is your tummy. I’m not talking “core” here (whatever that means!). I’m actually talking about the upper and lower tummy muscles, how they switch on, working together, support your ribcage and spine, load and co-ordinate with your arms and legs.
The ability of your mid-section to work well allows you to do stuff with your arms and legs and feel “connected”, “strong” and like things work together. The tummy working optimally spreads forces throughout the body. Problems in this region is something I see in most clients every day, in clinic.
There are lots of things that make your tummy muscles go offline. Loads of stress breathing, pregnancy, pain, abdominal surgery, weak hands, weak legs…. the list goes on. Most people fall into this category. Myself included. I thought I was working my tummy fine after pregnancy, but I hadn’t fully got it co-ordinating with my arms and legs, hence why my hip started hurting. It took more than Pilates classes to get it back online. But was very simple once I knew what I needed to do.
BIG OVERLOAD and BIG COMPRESSION
Hopefully, you can now see there are lots of reasons why your head hurts! All the things I’ve just talked about overload the structures in your neck, causing big amounts of compression, restricting normal movement, triggering pain, and limiting your life. Your joints and muscles like space and big movement. When they don’t get it, stuff gets sore or tight from the overload, and leads to your headache. Many of you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders! You literally have it squishing you down! No wonder on x-rays why many of you have arthritic changes or reduced disc height. When this compression is there on the muscles it compresses on the joints. Overtime leading to these changes.
Given all the reasons why you get headaches, taking painkillers is never going to be the cure to your headaches. It may give some temporary relief, but it won’t cure you or sort out the cause. Equally, local treatment to the sore bit rarely gives a good long-term outcome. It may feel good at the time and give a temporary relief but without addressing the stress, altered breathing, range of movement, arm loading and tummy muscle activation, you are likely going to get the problem returning.
Headaches don’t need to be a long-term condition affecting your daily or weekly life. My Mum knows that now. So do many of our other clients who’ve been in to see us at the HealthHub. The answer really can be simple, but you have to unwind the problem and deal with the overload and underlying cause.
Of course, there are often other things to consider when you suffer from a headache. Are you drinking enough water to hydrate you? Are you having too much caffeine or alcohol? Could you improve your desk or workplace ergonomics? What’s going on with your hormones? Do you need to get your eyes checked? Have you any food intolerances?
BUT, for most parts this stuff plays a more minor part to the things I’ve talked about above.
Please don’t limit your life with headaches that could be dealt with by a good Physio. My beautiful client Jen got very tearful with me recently because she hadn’t realised what an impact her daily headaches were having on her life. It was only when her headaches went that she could tell how much her wellbeing suffered, affecting all areas of her life, including her mood and joy. Be like Jen and Mum and get them sorted. You’re never gonna regret it!
If this article touched a nerve with you and you’d like to find out more, we offer FREE Discovery visit or phone call with one of our therapists. You can find out a little more about the Hub and if we can help you with your particular problem. If this sounds interesting or you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to call or email on 01548 852355 or [email protected].
Finally, if you’d like to know the exact steps to take to get rid of headaches for good, download this special report I’ve written just for you. It’s full of all the steps we take to address those headaches and not rely on painkillers and misery any longer! Click here to download it now
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