For reasons unclear to me, I began having tension headaches a few months ago. Fearing sinus problems or something worse, I scheduled an appointment with my physician. After a complete medical assessment, I was told I was simply suffering from tension headaches. I was referred to a physical therapist who taught me a few simple exercises. After just a few weeks, I was not only controlling my tension headaches, but they have since disappeared completely.
It was explained to me that tension headaches can mimic what’s called a sinus headache, although they more frequently involve pain in the back of the head or neck. They are also sometimes related to muscle and/or joint problems in the upper back and neck, as well as poor posture and breathing patterns. Once it was determined that I was not suffering from a medical problem, the physical therapist did his own assessment. Once complete, we developed an exercise plan to control – and eventually eliminate – my tension headaches.
Since most tension headaches are triggered by stress and exhaustion, my daily activities and lifestyle, along with my sleeping patterns were assessed. All seemed to be in order, with the exception of a bit too much caffeine, perhaps. After all was said and done, the physical therapist determined that my tension headaches were most likely the result of poor posture, both when sitting and walking.
He suggested I first see a chiropractor for a few adjustments, which I did. Over time, not paying enough attention to how I sit, stood and walked had caused some misalignment that was corrected in just three adjustments.
Convinced that my chronically poor posture had resulted in tight muscles in my chest and the front of my neck and weak muscles in my back, I was ready to try some new exercises.
Both exercises are done morning and evening and take about two to five minutes. Sometimes I will take more time because my chest, shoulders and upper back feel good when I’m working them. I do the following:
1. Lie on my back on the floor. My knees are bent, my lower back is flat on the floor and my stomach or abdomen is pulled inward.
2. Keeping my elbows at my sides, I put my hands toward my head with my palms up.
3. I then squeeze my shoulder blades together and down and hold them for a count of 20. I’ll repeat this as often as I determine feels good.
4. Stand in a doorway with my right arm extended at the shoulder, palm facing forward. Allowing the doorway or wall act as a stop for my arm, I slowly turn as far as I can and hold, stretching my chest muscles. I then switch arms and stretch the other side of my chest. It’s important to keep your arm at shoulder height.
I do the second exercise less frequently, depending on whether I’m working at my computer or desk. When that’s where I’m spending a few hours of work, I make a concerted effort to take a short break every half hour and do the following:
1. Sitting or standing, I squeeze my shoulder blades together and hold for a count of 20.
2. I then roll my shoulders forward and backward a number of times.
3. I purposely sit up straight and pull my stomach in, holding for a count of 20.
4. Sitting up straight, I focus on my breathing and take several deep breaths, holding each as long as I can.
Amazingly simple, but these exercises were the answer to my tension headaches. I was initially skeptical, but have been headache-free since taking the time to work these simple exercises into my daily routine.