If you find yourself reaching for ibuprofen on a nearly daily basis due to a pounding, stabbing, or burning headache, you may worry that these headaches have a sinister cause--aneurysm, autoimmune disease, or even a brain tumor. While true migraines may require medication to be sent back into remission, more ordinary (but chronic) headaches can often be caused by something as simple as poor posture rather than anything serious or life-threatening.
Read on to learn more about why poor posture may cause chronic headaches, as well as which physical therapy maneuvers may be able to bring you some relief.
Why does poor posture lead to headaches?
Both poor posture and muscle imbalance can cause you to unconsciously tense the muscles near the back of your skull. If you find that your headaches usually start at the back of your head, are accompanied by a sore or stiff neck, or radiate along your scalp to cause pain in your forehead or behind your eyes, these may be "postural" headaches that are triggered by muscle tension and exhaustion.
When you sit with poor posture—that is, with your shoulders slumped or rounded and your head leaning forward—you can cause inordinate strain on your chest, spine, pelvis, and neck. Over time, the muscles in your back and the back of your neck will stretch, while the muscles in your chest, stomach, and "core" will shorten, making it even harder to regain taut posture without pain.
This poor posture can cause headaches when the muscles in your back create pressure on your sub-occipital nerve, the nerve that travels along your spine to your neck and the base of your skull. Over time and as your muscle imbalance worsens, this pressure can become more constant, leading to a chronic dull headache whenever you're sitting or standing for more than a few minutes at a time.
What can you do to improve your posture?
Fortunately, ridding yourself of these chronic headaches can be as simple as improving your posture, although improving your posture can be a bit more complicated than sitting up straight.
You may want to enroll in a few physical therapy sessions to get started with some exercises you can perform on your own at home; alternatively, you may want to look up some exercise videos that focus on stretching the shorter muscles in the front of your neck and chest while strengthening the longer muscles in your back.
Many of these exercises resemble yoga poses, allowing you to relax and even enter a near-meditative state while working on your posture and breathing deeply. Over time, assuming these muscle-strengthening positions while you're watching television, working on the computer, or doing other tasks that once led you to slouch and slump will be nearly as automatic as breathing.
To learn more about physical therapy or dealing with chronic headaches, contact resources like Dr. Carr Integrative Physical Therapy.