Posture and Headaches

Headaches (HA) play a significant role in a person’s quality of life and are one of the most common complaints that chiropractors see. This comes as no surprise, as one survey reported 16.6% of adults (18 years and older) suffered from migraines or other severe headaches during the last three months of 2011. Another study reported that head pain was the fifth LEADING CAUSE of emergency department (ED) visits in the United States and accounted for 1.2% of all outpatient visits. These statistics are even worse for females (18-44 years old), where the three-month occurrence rate was 26.1% and the third leading cause for ED visits! Because of the significant potential side effects of medications, many headache sufferers turn to non-medication treatment approaches, of which chiropractic is one of the most commonly utilized forms of “complementary and alternative approaches” in the management of tension-type headaches. So, why are headaches so common? Let’s talk about posture!

Posture plays a KEY ROLE in the onset and persistence of cervicogenic (originate in the neck) headaches. If there is such a thing as “perfect posture,” it might “look” something like this: viewing a person from the front (starting at the feet), the feet would flair slightly outwards symmetrically, the medial longitudinal (inside) arch of the feet would allow enough space for an index finger to creep under to the first joint (and NOT flat like so many), the ankles would line up with the shin bones (and NOT roll inwards), the knees would slightly “knock” inwards and hips would line up squarely with the pelvis. The shoulders would be level, the arms would hang freely and not be pronated (rolled) inwards, and head would be level (not tilted). From the side view, the knees would not be hyperextended nor flexed, the shoulders would not be forward (protracted) and MOST IMPORTANT (at least for headaches), the head would NOT be forward and be able to have a  perpendicular line drawn from the floor through the shoulder, as this line should pass through the outer opening of the ear. As the head “translates” or shifts forwards, for every inch of “anterior head translation” (AHT), it essentially gains 10 pounds in weight, which the upper back and neck muscles have to counter balance!

A leading University of California medical author, Dr. Rene Calliet, wrote that this altered posture can add up to 30 pounds of abnormal weight to the neck and can “…pull the entire spine out of alignment.” It can also reduce the lung’s vital capacity by 30%, which can contribute to all sorts of breathing-impaired health problems! Think of carrying a 30-pound watermelon around your neck all day—the muscle pain from fatigue would be tremendous! If this is left uncorrected, chronic neck pain and headaches from pinching off the top three nerves in the neck is likely. The combination of AHT and shoulder protraction may also lead to the development of an upper thoracic “hump” and potentially into a “Dowager Hump” if the mid back vertebrae become compressed (wedged). An increased rate of mortality of 1.44 is reportedly associated with this faulty posture!

Between chiropractic adjustments, posture retraining exercises, other postural corrective care, and strength exercise training, your doctor of chiropractic WILL help you correct your faulty posture so that neck pain and headaches STOP and don’t progress into a chronic, permanent condition.