Headaches can be such a nuisance. It is estimated 50% of people experience a headache at least once a year, 30% of which are migraines. There always seems to be another product out there promoting a miracle cure. But what really works?
At Freedom Physical Therapy we take headaches seriously. We evaluate the potential sources of the headache, not just the symptoms. This involves looking at posture, parafunctional habits (like nail biting, clenching, etc), body mechanics, strength, flexibility, muscle tenderness, breathing, and sleep position, among others.
While everyone needs a different course of treatment based on their condition and findings, there are a number of things we can all do to reduce the prevalence and severity of headaches.
- Relax your jaw. Proper rest position for the jaw will relieve stress on the chewing muscles, which are often a source of headache pain. Start by placing the tip of your tongue against the back of your top front teeth, allowing your lower jaw to hang in a relaxed position. You should be able to gently rock your jaw from side to side to indicate you aren’t clenching.
- Sit comfortably tall. Sitting posture needs to be relaxed, but “stacked”. If you are holding your posture tightly you won’t be able to relax the appropriate muscles. If your head is directly over your shoulders, and hips, and you feel your body say “Ahh”, because it doesn’t feel like it requires extra effort to stay there, you are doing well. And your shoulders should feel heavy.
- Breathe from your diaphragm. Stress headaches can result from breathing from your upper rib cage. Breathing into your lower abdomen, or your diaphragm, will lower your breathing rate, relax your neck, and assist in lessening your headaches.
- Nodding. Often the muscles below the back of your skull can be a source of headaches. Poor posture may result in shortening of these muscles, generating pain impulses. Tucking in your chin and nodding often throughout the day to gently lengthen the suboccipital muscles will restore mobility.
- Massage. We all seem to know that massaging our temples when we have a headache gives us temporary relief. Keep it up. Don’t forget about the muscles under the back of the skull, those along the sides of the neck (the upper trapezius), the face (masseter), or the front and sides of the neck (sternocleidomastoid).
- “W’s”. To improve your posture it is not enough to try to sit taller. Strengthening the muscles around your shoulder blades will help you maintain better posture. To do this, raise your hands as if you are surrendering. Then try to tuck your elbows into your back pockets. You have just made a “W” with your arms. Do this frequently. Remember to keep your jaw relaxed.