According to the World Health Organization about half of the world’s adult population has had a headache at least once in the past year. Prolonged use of electronic devices has greatly contributed to this problem. For many people, these headaches are infrequent and do not often affect daily life. But what about when your headache occurs frequently or is so severe it prevents you from going about your day to day activities? Some types of headaches are more easily treated and managed than others.
There are two types of headaches: primary and secondary. Primary headaches occur without an underlying disease and include migraines and tension-type headaches. Secondary headaches can be associated with serious disease, requiring emergency care, or can be referred from other structures of the body such as the cervical spine (neck).
Headaches symptoms that may constitute a medical emergency are: vomiting, seizures, fever, muscle pain, night sweat, weight loss, and neurologic symptoms such as blurred vision. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, if your headache worsens, or your symptoms change it is recommended that you seek medical attention. Any headache that is unusual for you and does not resolve itself in a reasonable time should be brought to your primary care physician’s attention.
Migraines: Migraines are a primary form of headache that typically lasts from four to seventy two hours, can range from moderate to severe pain, and typically are located on only one side of the head. Often they can be accompanied by an aura, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to sound, or light sensitivity. Migraines can be aggravated by routine physical activity such as going up stairs. This type of headache is thought to occur in the central nervous system and is related to blood vessels.
Tension-type: Tension-type headaches are the most common primary headache disorder and can last anywhere from thirty minutes to seven days. These can often have a pressing or tightening quality that occurs on both sides of the head. Here there is no nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, or aggravation with physical activity. This type of headache is thought to occur in the central nervous system but can have a hereditary component and is usually associated with muscle tender points. Tension – type headaches can be treated with relaxation techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), medications, and physical therapy.
The most common secondary headache that is not related to a serious medical condition is a cervicogenic headache (originating from the neck).
Cervicogenic Headache: The length of time a cervicogenic headache can last varies. Here the pain is on one side and usually starts in the neck. This type of headache is aggravated or preceded by head postures or movements of the neck. Due to the nerves of the neck and face sharing common connections, pain signals sent from one region can lead to discomfort in the other. Physical therapy can be an effective treatment to help relieve symptoms. For example: posture, exercise, ergonomics, massage, manual techniques, traction, trigger point, and acupressure.
A cervicogenic headache can be caused by an accident or trauma or can stem from neck movement or sustained postures. Sustained postures could mean sitting in front of a computer at work or looking down at your phone. Changing these postures throughout the day could help reduce symptoms. Changing postures could mean bringing your phone closer to you using pillows or another supportive surface when reading or checking social media. If you are someone who works at a desk, it could involve taking breaks or getting a standing desk. However your life requires you to move, there are some simple and effective exercises you can perform throughout the day to help cervicogenic headache symptoms.
5 TIPS FOR TENSION HEADACHES
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: PMR is an effective method for reducing tension throughout the body. With this method you first tense a muscle group, such as at the neck or shoulder, and then relax the muscles noting the difference between the two. This helps reduce both stress and tension. For more information or to learn how to do PMR, refer to podcast at: https://www.psychologies.co.uk/try-progressive-muscle-relaxation
Manage your stress level: While stressors vary from person to person, one method for managing stress is with exercise. Any form of exercise can help reduce stress, but a cost free method is aerobic exercise such as walking or running. A less time consuming method could be to perform deep breathing exercises throughout the day.
Heat or cold: When feeling sore or stiff, applying a hot or cold pack or taking a hot shower can help ease a tension headache.
Posture: Some tips for posture are to make sure your head is over your shoulders rather than sitting forward and making sure you are sitting or standing up straight with your shoulders back.
Over the counter medications: Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for additional information.
5 TIPS FOR CERVICAL HEADACHES
Posture: See tips listed under tension headaches.
Ergonomics: If your job or hobbies require you to sit for extended periods it may be beneficial to change positions throughout the day or consider getting a standing desk. Also, limit time on electronic devices. When sitting make sure the monitor is at eye level, your legs are able to fit under your desk, and you are close to the keyboard and monitor. If you are working with a laptop or phone, avoid putting it on your lap. Instead, bring your laptop closer to you by putting pillows on your lap.
Exercise: Some exercises to help relieve symptoms are chin tucks, shoulder blade pinches, and back extension. These exercises can be performed multiple times throughout the day in sitting or standing.
Physical Therapy: Physical therapy may include massage, manual techniques, stretching, traction/ decompression and exercise. A physical therapist can assess your posture and provide strategies specific to you.
Over the counter medications: While medication may not cure cervicogenic headaches, they may help relieve pain. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for additional information.
Contibutor: Alexa Rzucidlo, PT, DPT
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: email@example.com
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (formerly The Commonwealth Medical College).
SITTING TOO MUCH? ZOOM CLASS FROM HOME…WORKING FROM HOME…
Can lead to stiff neck and back pain
Part I of II
Standing while studying, working, reading … good for children and adults to learn, work and be healthier!
I think we would all agree, technology is a wonderful thing. However, like all good things, it comes at a price. Students and workers alike have always suffered from the many physical effects of sitting for too many hours. But now, with a full day of Zoom classes, virtual meetings and long hours working from home, I have heard from many people suffering from neck, middle and lower back pain as well as headaches associated with prolonged sitting and computer use.
Studies show the impact of prolonged sitting, especially with poor posture, are multifaceted; pain, headaches, vision problems, poor concentration, excess fat storage with weight gain. Studies strongly support the use of using good posture, ergonomic workstations, posture stretches and frequent changes of positions, including the use of standing desks to prevent pain and injury. In fact, standing desks are not a new invention; they have been used by many to promote health and stimulate thought…Hemingway, Franklin and Jefferson all stood while they worked.
The Problem is Gravity!
The average head weighs 10 to 12 pounds and when tilted down at a 45 degree angle the forces of gravity are multiplied by 5. While reading, studying or working on the computer with poor posture, one must support 50 or more pounds of pressure on the neck, middle and lower back for hours on end. It is no wonder why this activity is associated with headaches, neck and back pain, numbness and tingling in arms and legs, muscle spasms etc. Some studies report the lifetime prevalence of neck and shoulder pain in office workers as high as 80%.
Recent research has also correlated the amount of time an individual sits to a decrease in their average life expectancy. Seriously, watching television and sitting is literally killing us. The Heart and Diabetes Institute of Australia conducted extensive research on sedentary behavior, including a review of almost one million people. They used actuary science, adjusted for smoking, waist circumference, and diet and exercise habits to assess the specific effects that the hours of sitting in a day impacts a person’s life span. They found that sitting too long results in a decrease in muscle contraction of the big leg muscles and because these unused muscles need less fuel, more unused glucose (fuel) is stored in the muscle. High glucose levels result in high blood sugar, which leads to adult onset diabetes and other health issues.
Sitting in a Virtual or Real Classroom…
The deleterious effects of sitting in children have also come under scrutiny and it may impact the classroom. Due to technology, today’s classroom is more advanced in many ways. However, the traditional hard chair and desk remain unchanged. Not only are these, “one size fits all,” desks uncomfortable, current research suggests that they may also limit learning.
Recent studies show that standing desks promote not only a physically healthier child by expending more calories and lowering obesity, but also improves focus and concentration to improve academic outcomes.
Research from Texas A&M Health Science Center found two landmark things about children who worked at standing desks such as Stand2LearnR, when compared to those seated: One, children burned more calories and obese children burned more than normal-weight peers. Two, children were more attentive in the classroom and engaged more with their teacher and their work when allowed to stand. Teachers in the study not only found the results to be favorable for fidgety, high-energy kids, but those who tend to be overweight and tired benefited greatly.
Researchers were quick to point out that there may be many ways to promote movement and limit sitting in the classroom that may also promote learning in a healthy way such as sitting on exercise balls or inflatable discs.
Sitting in the Home Office or Work Office …
The average office worker sits for more than 10 hours per day between office work, sitting at lunch, checking email and social media at home. Amazingly, studies suggest that even vigorous exercise before and after work cannot overcome the damage from prolonged sitting. New products such as the “TrekDeskR,” allows a worker to work on a computer, phone, or do paperwork, while walking on a treadmill, has health benefits. Also, other products such as VariDeskR, allows for frequent positional changes from sitting to standing while working. Even without using a standing desk, changing positions, such as standing during phone calls or meetings has proven to be valuable.
TrekDesk; VariDesk; Stand2Learn Desk
Caption: Standing desks have been used by many to promote health and stimulate thought…Hemingway, Franklin and Jefferson all stood while they worked.
(use TrekDesk photo (www.trekdesk.com) from previous column and refer to column date or link) Photo of VariDesk (www.varidesk.com); Photo of Stand2Learn Desk (www.stand2learn.com).
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Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every MondayThis article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.