How Posture Affects Migraines
This article reviews how poor posture can increase headaches and migraines. It also offers solutions.
Poor Posture in Migraine Sufferers
Forward head posture is what your mother would call “poor posture.”
Poor Posture and Neck Injuries
It’s no secret that slouching in front of a computer for long periods can lead to chronic neck pain (study).
Poor posture can also lead to neck and shoulder injuries, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), balance problems, and dizziness (study).
Neck Pain is a Migraine Trigger and Symptom
Neck pain is a common migraine trigger.
Neck pain is also one of the most common symptoms of migraine. In fact, neck pain is often one of the first symptoms of a migraine starting.
Migraines can trigger or be triggered by neck inflammation. It’s a cycle that good posture may be able to prevent.
For more on why neck pain triggers migraines, read the full article here.
Poor Posture Increases Stress
In 2015, the American Psychological Association published a study on how posture affected the stress levels in 74 people (study).
The participants were assigned to sit slumped or upright with good posture.
Participants then completed the Trier social stress test, which is used to reliably induce and measure stress responses. Think of a job interview with arithmetic questions, but there are several scientists assessing your speech to evaluate your mood, self-esteem, and overall stress.
Upright participants had higher self-esteem, better mood, less fear, and showed more positive emotions than the slumped participants.
Depression is more likely in migraine sufferers and emotional stress is a top migraine trigger (full article, #5 and #19).
Poor Posture Equals Poor Breathing
Poor posture can cause respiratory dysfunction.
A study published in 2004 found that 83 percent of patients with neck pain that was caused by poor posture had changes in their breathing pattern (study).
A study published in 2016 also found that poor posture, in this case from excessive cell phone use, was associated with poor respiratory function (study).
Breathing exercises, such as those done in biofeedback, can improve respiratory function and reduce migraines (full article).
Biofeedback has been proven to reduce migraine pain and frequency just as well as medications in over 55 studies (study).
Perhaps increasing respiratory function through good posture will also be beneficial for migraines.
A Japanese study published in 2009 found that 68 children improved their productivity in academic writing after being taught how to sit with good posture (study). Most adults will also tell you that posture improves their work productivity.
Increasing productivity could reduce the migraine trigger stress.
Some attribute the almost non-existent back pain of certain indigenous tribes to a natural J-shape posture (NPR).
The J-shape posture occurs when your neck is straight, your shoulders and buttocks are high, and your back is towards your rear.
I would say the non-sedentary lifestyle might also have something to do with their perfect spines which show little decay as they age (study).
Sedentary behavior is sitting, rather than standing or engaging in physical activity. Going to work in your car, sitting in front of a computer, driving home, and watching TV are not natural.
Sedentary lifestyles are literally killing us. A study with over 200,000 participants found that physical activity or standing instead of being sedentary substantially reduced the risk of premature death (study).
Sedentary work such as sitting in front of a computer is more likely to degrade muscles and cause neck pain (study). This will promote poor posture and increase migraine risk.
Sedentary Lifestyles in Migraine Sufferers
A study published in 2013 sought to find out why migraine sufferers have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (study).
A key finding was that all obese and non-obese migraineurs were labeled as sedentary. The people in the control group of normal weight and non-migraine sufferers were all found to be active.
The study used a sedentary behavior questionnaire.
It’s important to note that you can still fall into a sedentary classification if you exercise every day, but spend too much time sitting (sedentarybehaviour.org).
How to Improve Posture
Here is a helpful nine-step posture guide with interactive images.
Posture exercises are great, but most people will forget to do them in about a week.
The best way to improve posture is to stop the sedentary behavior that causes poor posture.
Stand up desk:
Standing desks are amazing and will give you more energy.
Full body cardio workouts can strengthen your muscles to give you better posture throughout the day.
I like Insanity MAX30. You may enjoy swimming, yoga, or simply walking more.
Exercise may also decrease migraine frequency (full article).
According to sleep expert Michael Breus, Phd, the wrong pillow can worsen neck pain, headaches, allergies, and quality of sleep (WebMD).
A regular pillow is best for those that sleep on their side. Or get a pillow customized to your preference with removable foam.
Make sure the pillow is hypo-allergenic, because pillows are breading grounds for mold, dust, and allergens that can trigger migraines.
Get neck support while lounging in bed. This reading pillow was one of the best investments that I’ve ever made.
New pillows should be purchased every 12 months to avoid allergens and neck problems. Where you spend 8 hours a day is no place to skimp on quality.
Mattresses are harder to choose, because they are unique to your preference of softness or firmness. A firm mattress is good for your back, but if you have chronic pain, you may want a soft mattress (WebMD). Get rid of any lopsided mattress or box spring. This is a great box spring replacement with a mattress for under $300.
A chiropractor can actually evaluate your posture, measure your progress, and identify any problems that may affect migraines.
Chiropractors are masters of the spine, nervous system, and inflammation (study).
A study with 127 migraine patients found that 72 percent of patients improved after two months of chiropractic care (study). Twenty-two percent of patients reported more than a 90 percent reduction in migraines.
Mixed Research for Posture and Migraine
A recent study found that migraine sufferers were more likely to lean their heads forward, but it was not statistically significant (study). However, the researchers did find that forward head posture slightly increased migraine frequency.
A small study published in 2014 found no significant difference in forward head posture between migraine sufferers and control groups. However, the study found stiffness or limited movement in the neck was more likely in migraine sufferers (study).
It’s difficult to compare the posture of migraine sufferers to average people because the average person lives a sedentary lifestyle that promotes poor posture.
Not all Migraines are associated with neck problems
There are many migraine triggers and they are all unique to the individual (Migraine Diet).
Because not all migraine sufferers have poor posture as a trigger and many healthy people have poor posture, it will take a study with more than 20 or 30 migraine sufferers to confirm that poor posture increases migraine risk.
For now, it’s common sense. Leaning your head forward with poor posture can cause neck pain (study).
Neck pain increases migraine risk (full article).
Of course it is a good idea to practice good posture in hopes of preventing migraines.