The World Health Organization determines that 47% of the population will suffer from headaches at least one time this year. For many, headaches become a way of life, having to take over-the-counter medication on a frequent basis just to get through the day. However, it does not have to be this way, if you understand some of the fundamental concepts that trigger headaches.
While a headache is in itself a complicated condition that involves the misfiring of thousands of nerve endings, the most common causes of headaches are actually problems with the function of the muscles in the upper neck. The upper neck is one of the most complicated areas of the body with many muscles, complex joints, major arteries, spinal cord, and balance sensors.
What can go wrong
With our everyday chaotic lives, huge stress is demanded on our body, not only mechanically, but mentally also. Mental stress changes hormone production in the body, increases muscle tension, and decreases the threshold for pain tolerance. Mechanical and mental stresses go hand in hand to set you up for common neck pain and headaches.
5 Steps to Relieving Headaches
- Improve blood chemistry with proper breathing –Without knowing it, daily stress causes you to breathe shallower. This increases the carbon dioxide concentration in your blood, changing the pH of your blood slightly. This can throw off the delicate balance of thousands of normal chemical processes in your body. Take time throughout the day to stop what you are doing and focus on taking breaths in for 6 seconds and out for 8. Use your diaphragm muscle instead of your shoulder muscles, by making your belly expand.
- Stretch your chest and neck – In sitting positions at a computer, the tendency is to slouch, bringing the shoulders forward, weakening the upper back muscles, while tightening the chest and neck muscles. Take time to stretch your chest by squeezing your shoulder blades together gently, while keeping your neck relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds and do at least 5 repetitions repeating this exercise throughout the day.
- Strengthen your mid and lower back muscles – With prolonged sitting the mid and lower back muscles weaken. This causes additional strain on the neck muscles and makes you prone to cervicogenic headaches. There are specific exercises to help you build these weakened areas. Talk to your physical therapist about which exercise program can help you target and strengthen these areas.
- Hydrate – The vast majority of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Many sodas, coffees and teas are diuretics, which cause your body to eliminate water. The brain requires a certain level of hydration to function properly and remove normal wastes. Being dehydrated causes these toxins to back up, increasing the tendency for headaches. Don’t wait until you are thirsty, as this is a sign of severe dehydration. Drink water consistently throughout the day in adequate volumes for your weight and size.
- Improve your posture – The further protruded your neck becomes, the greater the weight and tension on your neck muscles. In proper posture, your head is balanced on your neck at about 10-12 pounds. With forward head posture, this can actually increase to the equivalent of 60 pounds of strain on your neck muscles throughout the day. No wonder you get a headache at the end of the day! Physical therapists are trained to examine your posture and work on specific hands-on techniques and exercises to restore normal alignment of your spine.
These 5 steps can go a long way to prevent your headaches from starting, and the need for taking medications that have long-term side-effects. To learn more about how we help relieve headaches and neck pain, while improving your neck mobility and strength, call Houghton Physical Therapy today.