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Poor Posture & Headache

By Jackie Lohrey ; Updated August 14, 2017

The next time you get a headache, check your posture. Poor posture causes muscle strain, changes in your breathing patterns and leads to a host of problems, including headaches. Without being conscious and taking positive steps to get your posture back in line, neck pain and an occasional headache can easily become chronic.


Poor posture pits muscle control against the forces of gravity. In addition to causing strain on the hamstrings and large back muscles important in maintaining posture, a condition called “anterior head translation,” or “forward head posture,” also places strain on your upper back and neck muscles. Dr. Adalbert I. Kapandji, an orthopedic surgeon and author of numerous textbooks such as “Physiology of the Joints,” states that to keep your head upright these muscles must work as though they are supporting an additional ten pounds of weight for every inch your head moves forward. The added strain puts pressure on the nerves in your neck and keeps upper back and neck muscles in a constant state of contraction, causing headaches.


Headaches caused by poor posture can include tension and neck-related headaches. Tension headaches, brought on by muscle tension in the back of your neck and/or your scalp, are the most common type of headache.

Neck related headaches are more nerve-related and occur when stress leads to straining or inflammation of the discs and facet joints in the middle and upper parts of your neck. Neck related headaches could also occur as the result of inflammation in the joints where your skull and neck meet.


Factors that contribute to poor posture and posture-related headaches include poor muscle tone, obesity, stress, pregnancy and high-heeled shoes. Personal habits and environmental concerns can also be contributing factors. These factors include an incorrectly set up computer workstation, carrying heavy backpacks, working on counter tops set too low or too high and even the way you hold and carry an infant or small child.


The symptoms tension and neck-related headaches create can help you distinguish the type from which you suffer. Symptoms typical of tension headaches include mild to moderate pain, usually on both sides of the head or neck. In contrast, neck-related headaches are usually on one side of the head or neck. The pain associated with neck-related headaches can be severe.


Poor posture can lead to more than just the occasional tension or neck-related headache. These headaches can become chronic and result in additional problems. A chronic daily headache can be defined as one present for a minimum of 15 days per month for at least three months in a row. Risk factors include prolonged poor posture and the overuse of pain medication. Taking too much pain medication to cure a headache can have the opposite result and cause you to suffer from “rebound headaches.”


You can take steps to prevent or reduce the occurrence of posture-related headaches. The most important step you can take is to improve your posture. Make a conscious effort to stand, sit and lie down properly. Strength training that targets your back muscles and hamstrings is also beneficial. Instead of continually taking pain medication to lessen headache pain, try alternative therapies such as getting a massage, relaxation therapy, acupuncture or chiropractic care.

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