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Simple tricks to alleviate back- to- work headaches

Christmas has come and gone and for most of us, that means back to work. Back to the daily commute. Back to sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day. Back to typing. Back to craning your head down to read emails on your smartphone. And back to ending work days with a headache.

Most of us assume that it’s the stress which makes our headache after a long day. In part that is true. We often start the day sitting up nice and straight, but after a few emails and deadlines, we forget about our posture and find ourselves slumped over the desk with hunched shoulders and our chin poked out. We’ve shifted the normal curve of our spine and in doing so, put the muscles and joints in the neck under pressure, causing pain and stiffness and leading to headaches.

We cope by trying to put it out of our minds, or taking a pain killer when the pain starts to affect our day. These strategies work in the short term. But over time, this “stressful office” posture allows us to switch off certain muscles of the neck and shoulders (the stabilisers) causing them to grow weak. To compensate, other muscles are forced to take over the stabilising role as well as their normal functions. They get overworked and may develop painful trigger points. All this leads to even more pain and further changes in your posture and movement patterns. You’re caught in a downward spiral.

The good news is you don’t need to spend another work year putting up with your headaches. Generally speaking, you can eliminate these symptoms by correcting your posture and addressing muscle imbalances.

At Resolve Pilates I am passionate about helping you to build strength in the stabilising muscles around your neck and shoulders (including the deep neck flexors, lower trapezius and serratus anterior) to help eliminate your postural headaches. Passionate because I have suffered in the past myself, and know how much of a pain – literally – they can be. But all it takes is a few minor changes to the way you sit, some targeted exercises and a bit of commitment to make these headaches a thing of the past.

Starting right now, there are a couple of things you can do at your desk to start improving your posture and eliminating those headaches.

1 – firstly, engage your pelvic floor muscles (imagine trying to stop yourself from doing a wee). If you’re wondering how the muscles which support your pelvic and abdominal organs can address headaches, bear with me! It is all about giving your brain the cues to create a new postural pattern. Try drawing up your pelvic floor when you’re slumped forward over your desk. It is much harder to do than when you are sitting up nice and straight. So by asking you to engage your pelvic floor, I have gotten you out of a slump and into a nice straight back, which makes Steps 2 and 3 more effective.

2 – secondly, draw your shoulders back and down. This activates the stabilising muscles and helps to “switch off” the overactive and overworked bigger muscles. Again, this is hard to do with a rounded spine, so make sure you’re sitting up nice and tall.

3 – lastly, observe what your chin is doing. Chances are it will be forward, and contributing to your headaches. So I want you to draw your chin back in. Imagine you want to give yourself a double chin. That is the movement I’m looking for here – not selfie material but excellent for strengthening your deep neck flexors.

So there you are – sitting up nice and tall with your pelvic floor on, shoulders back and down and chin tucked in. You look taller. You look less stressed and more in control (even if you aren’t) and you’re on your way to eliminating those postural headaches. Come and see me and we can speed up the process with a tailored, individual program to build strength in your stabilising muscles and help you to Move Better.

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