Migraines are a common type of headache disorder affecting approximately 20% of women and 7% of men. Due to the potentially debilitating symptoms experienced, research continues to investigate etiology, including the impact of body posture.
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What are migraines?
Migraines are often described as intense headaches experienced as a thudding pain on one side of the head. In addition to the pain, migraineurs may also develop a set of associated symptoms such as a heightened sensitivity to noise and light, feeling nauseated and vomiting.
There are three main types of migraines: migraine without aura, migraine with aura, and silent migraines. Those who experience migraine with aura experience a range of symptoms that are indicative of the onset of a migraine. These include;
- Experiencing blind spots in vision
- Seeing flashing lights and zigzags
- Speaking impairments
- Dizzy spells
- Tingling and numbness
Following the onset of the aura symptoms, individuals often develop a headache, or for some, no headache is experienced.
Causes of migraines
Research has identified a range of migraine factors that are thought to trigger migraines which can be categorized into five main types; physical, dietary, emotional, environmental, and those caused by particular medication.
Amongst the different cause types, specific triggers include hypoglycemia, dehydration, stress, bright lights, and the estrogen and progesterone pill, respectively. It is also suggested that body posture may be linked to the onset of migraines.
Body posture and migraines
It is thought that poor posture can be a trigger of migraines. Some argue that despite migraines typically being viewed as a central pathway dysfunction, its associated symptoms can be considered to be peripheral as peripheral nociceptive stimuli are linked to the onset of a migraine episode.
It has been found that frequent migraineurs report stiffness, tenderness, and weakness of the neck with approximately 74% of this sample also experiencing neck pain. Due to this, research began to examine the relationship between the neck and head posture and the occurrence of migraines.
It is thought that poor posture such as forward head extension may result in tension build-up in the shoulders, neck, and upper back which can cause headaches and migraines.
Research investigating the presence of musculoskeletal dysfunctions and the prevalence of migraines found that those with migraines were more likely to also have several musculoskeletal dysfunctions aside from forward head posture. There are several explanations proposed to explain this finding.
Firstly, the occurrence of frequent migraines may be linked to a build-up of tension in the neck’s muscles, which subsequently cause dysfunction such as impaired mobility. Alternatively, any pre-existing dysfunction of the muscles of the cervical joint may act as a trigger for a migraine episode.
However, this study’s evidence is in contrast to research which found no significant relationship between the factors in those with cervicogenic headaches, tension headaches, and migraines.
One contrasting study investigating the effect of forward head posture and migraine onset found that women who experienced migraines did not have a larger forward head extension compared to women with no prior experience of headaches.
Due to the contradictory nature, more research may be required to establish the relationship between poor posture and migraines fully. It is also important to note that the majority of the studies typically involved female participants. Therefore, generalizability to male migraineurs may be limited.
How to improve posture and reduce migraines
If you believe that poor posture may be causing episodes of migraines, then there is a range of methods to employ to reduce further occurrence.
One suggestion is to regularly change your position in order to avoid standing or sitting in one specific position over a period of time. If sitting, it is recommended that you support your lower back and sit as straight as possible. An osteopath or physical therapist may also be able to assist in posture correction.
NHS (2019). Migraine: overview. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/migraine/
Ferrancini, G.N., Dach, F., Chaves, T.C., et al. (2016). Cervico-occipital Posture in Women with Migraine: A Case-Control Study. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. DOI: 10.2519/jospt.2016.6166
Luedtke, K., Starke, W., & Arne, M. (2017). Musculoskeletal dysfunction in migraine patients. Cephalalgia. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102417716934
NHS (2017). 10 headache triggers. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/headaches/10-headache-triggers/