Can bad posture cause migraines? For people who are susceptible to them, it might. Poor posture places pressure on certain muscles and fascia (the tissue covering the muscle), which, in turn, can create an environment for a migraine to begin.
How exactly does bad posture lead to migraines, and what can you do to improve your posture so you mitigate migraines?
Migraine is a head pain disorder that affects around 20% of women and 7% of men in the United States. Sufferers describe migraines as intense headaches with thudding or pulsing pain on one side of the head. Migraineurs may also experience a heightened sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, and vomiting.
There are three main types of migraines: with aura, without aura, and silent. All of them can cause a range of symptoms, such as:
- Blind spots in your vision
- Flashing lights or zigzag patterns
- Speaking impairment
- Dizzy spells
- Tingling and numbness
In some cases, there may not be head pain.
Migraines can be triggered by your emotions, something in your diet, or an environmental element. Some medications cause migraines, while others can be caused by:
- Bright lights
- Estrogen/progesterone pill
Body posture is another probable trigger or cause of migraines.
How Does Posture Trigger Migraines?
Many migraineurs who suffer frequent attacks report stiffness, tenderness, and neck weakness. Almost 3/4 experience neck pain.
Poor posture can lead to tension and pain due to misalignment, which contributes to shallow breathing and low energy. Today's most common problem is a head forward posture used when at a computer or driving.
Forward head extension refers to how many of us slouch into our seats and jut our faces forward to get closer to the computer screen. The same thing can happen when we sit in a car. The weight of the head out front makes the upper body muscles and fascia work too hard, building up tension and tightening neck muscles.
Besides the forward head posture, other problem postures include:
- Using a desk chair or car seat that is too high, too low, or tilted back
- Using a desk chair with armrests that are too high for your body
- Sitting with your neck and body torqued sideways
While you perform many tasks facing forward with the arms out front (a good thing), too many of us begin to bend into a C-curve while performing the same tasks (a bad thing).
After a while, the tension in the neck muscles creates the perfect setting for a migraine attack. The C-curve posture is a misalignment of the spine that results in holding your head forward, collapsing your chest, and rounding your back. Consider how you sit while:
- Feeding a baby
- Playing an instrument
- Carrying a heavy backpack
Poor posture factors into all of these tasks when you aren’t mindful of your body position.
Emotions can also play into poor posture—people who are sad, depressed, or not confident often unconsciously round their backs and shoulders.
C-curve posture contracts the shoulder, neck, and lower skull muscles and fascia. Eventually, the muscle builds up, just like a bodybuilder's, and becomes so dense the head cannot pull back over the shoulders. If you employ a C-curve long enough, you can develop a premature hump over your C6 and C7 vertebrae.
How to Improve Your Posture
Ideally, your ears, shoulders, and hips make a straight line toward the floor. Good posture does not mean sitting stiffly like a statue with an abnormally straight spine. Here are some guidelines on how to maintain good posture.
Be Aware of Your Seated Posture
Sit with your head and neck upright in a neutral position. Rest your feet flat on the floor or support them on a footrest. Keep your arms and elbows close to your sides, and use an armrest for support.
Keep your wrists in a neutral position while sitting with your hips completely back in your chair and supporting your back with a small, rolled towel placed behind the bend in your lower back above your hips.
Use a Recovery Pose When You Feel a Migraine Start
Lie on your back with your knees bent, and gently clasp your hands behind your head and neck. Let your elbows relax toward the floor until you feel a slight pulling but no pain. Focus on your breathing and relax, holding the position for one to two minutes as long as you are comfortable. Lift your elbows briefly if you need a break.
Repeat the exercise once more. If it irritates your muscles or makes the migraine worse, stop the exercise.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Working from home has allowed people to form some bad habits. Many attempt to work while sitting on a couch or lying in bed.
Instead, set up a desk and chair similar to what you have at an office. Position your computer monitor or laptop at eye level or slightly below.
When reading a book or using smaller electronic devices, bring the items to eye level. Consider using supports like cases or stands, and place frequently used items within easy reach.
Take Short Breaks Throughout the Day
Schedule some timed breaks and commit to taking them. Start a timer or alarm on your smartphone to remind you to get up and stretch. Perform exercises to help with proper posture.
Take a ten-minute walk around your neighborhood. If you do this three times, you’ll put in the recommended 30 minutes of daily activity the experts recommend for health.
Take your full lunch hour away from work, and sometimes, just stand up for a little bit. You'll feel refreshed when you sit back down at your desk.
Increase Your Activity to Make Up for Sitting So Much
Find exercises to strengthen your back and core muscles, which help you improve and maintain good posture. They also relieve tension and improve your sleep. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, and start slow. You can increase your activity gradually to keep from hurting yourself.
Try meditation, yoga, or aerobic exercise. All of these activities can reduce the frequency, intensity, and duration of your migraine attacks while helping you maintain good posture.
So many of us have poor posture. We slump over our desks or the wheels of our cars, with our heads out front and our backs rounded. Our neck and back become tense, which lays the groundwork for a migraine attack.
Check your posture. Are you assuming the C-curve? Assume good posture and stop work occasionally to realign yourself until you have built a good habit.
Take breaks, stretch your muscles, and find ways to relax throughout the day. Don't let lousy posture summon the migraine monster.