Consistently sitting in poor postural positions is the main reason that people experience tension headaches.
Most individuals have experienced a tension headache. Tension headaches are the most common form of headaches and it is estimated that they impact 9 out of 10 adults at some point in their life.
Fortunately, if you understand what triggers a tension headache, you can usually get quick relief from tension headaches and even stop the pain from coming back by taking some easy preventative actions.
The Cause of Tension Headaches
Like the name implies, tension headaches occur when the muscles of the neck, upper back, shoulders, scalp and jaw have too much strain or stress.
The main reason for tightness in these muscles is poor postural alignment, typically a forward head and neck. We’ve all been told to stand up or sit up straight before, well the reason is to get into better postural alignment. In the standing position, correct postural alignment would have our ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankle joints falling in a direct line with one another.
Problems arise when our head and neck juts ahead past this neutral posture, and increased pressure is placed on the muscles of the neck, upper back and shoulders triggering them to become overstretched, weak and painful (think of trying to balance a bowling ball on a stick). It also places stress and strain on one of the three nerves that exit the base of the skull where the upper back and neck muscles. Strain onto these nerves over a period of time produces a tension headache.
Improper posture is not the only factor for tense muscles. Everyday stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation can all cause increased tension into the muscle and lead to a headache.
Think about all the things that you experience throughout your day: holding your head in an unnatural position for extended periods of time while at a computer, when holding a telephone between your ear and shoulder, or looking down to read a book or text an individual on your smartphone can also put an undue amount of strain on the muscles of your upper back and neck as well.
For those of you who suffer with tension headaches, here are 4 things you can do today to help ease your pain.
4 Natural Ways to Ease Tension Headaches
1. Close your eyes and relax. Stress can aggravate the occipital nerve and increase light sensitivity. Resting with your eyes closed can ease the aggravation.
2. Massage the strained muscle of your upper back and neck. You may find that you do this instinctively or you ask others to push on your muscles. Self massage using a foam roller or a massage tool (theracane) is a great way to quickly work on the strained muscles of your neck, shoulders and upper back.
3. Apply heat to the upper back and the back of your neck. A heating pad, a hot shower and even a warm wet towel can help ease your discomfort.
4. Use a topical pain reliever. There are many options on the market today that include BenGay, IcyHot, and BioFreeze. We recommend using the natural topical cream Rub-On-Relief. Rub-on-Relief has been shown to help with every kind of discomfort including: nerve pain, muscular tissue discomfort, as well as ache caused from psychological stress. It is perfect for neck pain and tension headaches.
7 Tips for Preventing Tension Headaches
1. Obtain enough rest. Rest deprivation could lead to problems. Use an organic rest aide like melatonin if needed, but get enough rest to help prevent tension headaches. Remember that your body does its best repair work while you are sleeping, so decreased sleep leaves your body vulnerable.
2. Get physical exercise frequently, and consistently. Exercise is a great stress reliever, it increases mood-enhancing endorphins, and boost blood flow, which all assist in preventing tension headaches.
3. Drink lots of water. Dehydration can bring about stress and increased tension. A great rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water each day (ie: 200 pound man drinks 100 ounces of water). Drinking enough water helps to ensure your body has the fluid it needs to avoid stress and tension related to dehydration.
4. Focus on maintaining proper posture. Be aware of how you sit and stand. Remind yourself once an hour to relax your shoulders. Use sticky notes or ask a friend or coworker to give you a reminder. Remember that your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles be in a straight line to the floor while standing. Ears, shoulders and hips should be in a line while sitting. If you use your phone frequently throughout the day, beware not to lean your head to one side when holding a phone in between your ear and shoulder. As a healthy alternative, use a headset or speakerphone.
5. Utilizing a back support. If you are sitting at work for long periods or driving for long periods, use of a back support can help you maintain correct posture. Keeping your body in good postural alignment helps to relieve tension in the neck and back muscles that lead to tension headaches.
6. Minimize the use of pain relievers. The overuse of pain medication can lead to other problems and result in more pain. Remember, pain is the bodies protective mechanism, a way of warning you that something you are doing is not right. The regular consumption of pain medication can diminish this mechanism and lead to increased injury. To avoid problems that can arise from frequent use of painkillers, restrict pain medication consumption to no greater than 2-3 times a week. Any more than that and you should probably seek professional help by consulting with your physician.
7. Keep a log of your tension headaches. Record the frequency (how often), intensity (how bad), and duration (how long) of your headaches. See if there is a pattern that you can recognize. Do your headaches always occur after eating certain foods, performing particular activities, a certain time of the month, or based on your rest you had the night before. Review that previous 24 hours and determine if there are certain triggers that you need to avoid to prevent your tension headaches in the future. Knowledge is certainly power when it comes to controlling your tension headaches.
To Your Success!
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Medical Advice Disclaimer
The information included in this blog post and on this site are for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physical therapist-patient relationship.