Would it surprise you to know that most headaches are due to excess tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders? And that most of them are easy to prevent with simple movements and stretches? Yes, it really is that simple in most cases. Obviously, I’m not talking about someone who just recently injured their neck in a car accident or other severe injury. Most headaches are caused by too much tension – tension from dealing with stress, poor posture, and lack of movement. If you haven’t figured it out by now, my belief is that most pain is movement related, not enough or too much. Let’s look at some of the causes, starting with stress. Your body doesn’t know the difference between physical, mental, or emotional stress. Too much tension in the mind ends up causing tension in the body, and vice versa. Like it or not, it’s true. So you need to come up with healthy ways of releasing that tension, such as joint mobility movements, yoga, or tai chi, incorporating your mind with your body, consciously feeling what’s going on. Or you can take a walk, by yourself or with someone else. Other forms of exercise can also help release excess tension.
One little piece of advice though, if you are someone dealing with a lot of stress and spends too much time sitting, pumping up your muscles by lifting weights, creating more tension is probably not a good idea. You might be better off spending more time working on your flexibility and mobility to counteract the effects of too much sitting. Just cut back a little on the strength work and incorporate more flexibility. In my other articles, I’ve written how poor posture can, over time, cause pain and dysfunction. If you need a little reminder, remember that when sitting, your head and neck usually end up in front of your body, with your shoulders rounded forward. Your body adapts to this position unless you do something to reverse it, such as standing up straight and moving your head in different positions, to keep your joints mobile and healthy. If you don’t move your joints through their intended motions on a regular basis, you gradually lose that ability. Move it or lose it! Pretty straight forward. If you want more information on this subject, go to joint mobility training. I was in a minor car accident about three years ago, where I was hit from behind. While the driver wasn’t going 40 mph or more, the impact was enough to tear my bumper half way off and bend the frame a little. At the time I was doing mobility movements on a regular basis.
I had no pain whatsoever after this accident and required no treatments of any kind. I believe this was due to all the mobility work I did. Deep tissue massage and Myofascial Release do an excellent job of helping reduce excess tension, and after that, doing joint mobility moves and simple static stretches will help keep tension from causing pain. I’ve used Myofascial Release with great success with those with headaches or neck pain. Being conscious of good posture and doing maintenance work will go a long way towards being pain-free and healthy. When teaching massage therapy students, I show them a hold to reduce tension at the base of the skull. While they are doing this, I instruct the student on the table to roll their eyes around. When the students doing the hold can feel this movement, some are excited and some think that this is strange, kind of creepy. These muscles at the base of the skull are neurologically linked to the eyes, so that a buildup of tension can be related to too much time staring at a computer screen, etc. This suboccipital hold is done as a part of the Myofascial Release work to release tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders.
I believe in working towards prevention, so I would suggest performing different forms of stretching on a regular basis, even when you are feeling fine. It’s easier to prevent something than it is to fix it afterwards. And I will show you some movements for the neck in another article. Lastly, in finishing our discussion of posture, try to spend some time sitting straight. Be aware of your posture and how it can affect you. One of the keys for the neck may actually be your thoracic spine – from the base of your neck to where your lower back starts. This area frequently becomes too rounded with bad posture and can cause problems with your lower back, as well as your neck and shoulders. Most people need mobility work for this area. I worked in a chiropractic clinic where some of the patients would see me for work on their neck, in addition to their adjustment. They would leave feeling like a million bucks, but come back two weeks later with the same tension. If someone goes right back to their habits of poor posture and lack of movement, the results will be short-lived. You need to be doing self-maintenance work on your own.