Headaches & Muscle Tension in Your Upper Shoulders & Neck?


Headaches and muscle tension?

This could be coming from your posture! Muscle tension and headaches are a common complaint that can develop from looking down, or slouching for prolonged periods of time as the neck develops a forward head posture. Typically, both of these problems develop with office workers who sit in front of a computer with little movement, but it can also happen in a range of other scenarios! Spending too much time on your phone can result in a forward head posture and even some athletes have been known to develop it. Surprisingly, sleeping posture can also have an affect on your body if you are sleeping in an improper position or with an incorrect pillow.

Why does a forward head posture result in headaches and muscle tension?

When we look down or slouch for prolonged periods of time our neck or cervical spine gradually starts to shift forward. If left unchecked, the whole neck can be moved a few inches!

During this process, our body readjusts and begins to compensate. Some muscles become weakened and stretched while other muscles become shortened and fatigued. As the head moves forward, the brain actually begins to perceive the head as being heavier. Research has discovered that for every inch that the neck slides forward, it becomes perceived as being 10lbs/4.5kgs heavier!

Another system affected by our slouched posture is the nervous system. Spinal researcher Dr Nikolai Bogduk has found that head pain may arise from overstretched and compressed nerve roots from the upper cervical spine (neck). Due to forward head posture, the upper joints of the neck can cause compressive forces on the spinal nerve roots. One particular nerve root actually communicates with our limbic system. The limbic system is part of the brain area that is involved in our behavioural or emotional responses important in survival. You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response which is the way we respond to stressors. The limbic system is important as it also controls our motivation, emotions, learning and memory. Dr A.T. Still has discovered that dysfunction through the upper neck can disrupt this limbic system resulting in increased stress and increased muscle tension.

Forward head posture therefore not only results in muscular imbalances, but neurological imbalances resulting in increased stress and even more muscle tension.

How can I prevent forward head posture?

Be body aware and diligent with your self-care. 

Self-care includes exercise, mindfulness and correct workplace ergonomics. 

  1. Exercise program aimed at strengthening weakened postural muscles and stretching shorted tight muscles devised by your health care practitioner
  2. Stay mobile, get up and move more
  3. Correct workplace ergonomics. To see more about this, look at our blog on workplace ergonomics.
  4. Bring your phone or devices to your eyes, not the other way around!
  5. Ensure adequate breaks. Every hour, get up to stretch and mobilize the areas that have been still. 
  6. Practice mindfulness and look after your mental health
  7. Stay hydrated.

Come in to see one of our expert team at Ace Clinics for hands on therapy to ensure your spine is moving well and you are able to get into a good posture without being too stiff in your joint.

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Written by Dmitry Semisotov, Registered Massage Therapist, Ace Sports Clinic

Sources: Internal and external sources include but are not limited to scholarly articles, The 42 pound head, Erik Dalton.