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Is Your Chair Giving You Headaches?

14 February 2022

Poor ergonomics can add stress to structures in the body and tension in the spine which can result in headaches.

Sitting for long periods in a chair that does not give you adequate support can lead to tightness at the base of the skull, tension in the jaw, knots in the shoulder muscles and more intense and frequent headaches.

Lower-back Pain

Lower back pain is a common complaint for many, but did you know that your lower back pain could also be contributing to your headaches?

Those who suffer headaches and back pain may be relieved to know that switching their chair for a more ergonomic design could resolve both discomforts at once.

According to the German Headache Consortium study, there is a link between frequent lower back pain, chronic migraines and tension headaches.

The study found evidence that those who suffer lower back pain are 13-18% more likely to also experience headaches, suggesting a neurobiological link between the lower back and the brain.

Poor Posture

If you do not experience lower back pain but still experience headaches, poor posture is also a major contributor to chronic tension and tightness in the skull.

Some people experience headaches after sitting on the couch for prolonged periods, or after falling asleep in an awkward position - all of which are common causes of ongoing and prolonged headaches.

Poor posture results in pain from misalignment. It not only can cause headaches but also:

  • Poor circulation

  • Digestion issues

  • Constricted nerves

  • Curved spine

  • Tension in the upper back and shoulders

  • Strained breathing

Spinal Curvature

The occipital bone rests at the base of the skull and is the only bone in your head that connects with your spine.

It is the neurological crossroad where key vascular structures and nerves pass between the brain and the spinal cord. The bone itself is flat, provides protection for the brain and supports muscle attachment for the head and neck.

Many of us subconsciously lean forward while we sit at our desks, or living room chairs. Prolonged sitting in a forward-leaning position makes your spine curve into a c-shape and puts additional stress on the occipital bone.

The occipital bone can also experience stress from a misaligned spine and tight muscles that irritate the occipital nerves. Prolonged occipital nerve irritation can lead to a particular kind of headache called occipital neuralgia.

Occipital Neuralgia and Light Sensitivity

Occipital neuralgia is a piercing or throbbing pain that originates that the back of the head and behind the ears. It spreads upwards over the rest of the skull and can even affect the eyes.

Additional symptoms of occipital neuralgia include:

  • Aching or burning sensation in the back of the head

  • Pain on the sides of the head

  • Tender scalp

  • Pain when moving the neck

  • Pain behind the eyes

Occipital neuralgia is commonly mistaken for light sensitivity, so if you have been keeping the lights low and decreasing screen time in hopes of curing your chronic headache, it could perhaps be your chair that is the culprit and light sensitivity is merely the symptom and not the cause.

How To Treat Posture Related Headaches

Whether your headache is from lower back discomfort or spinal misalignment, there are ways to relieve yourself from the tension.

Choose The Right Office Chair

The first and most important treatment method is to get yourself a chair with adequate postural support. Choosing the right chair can give you tremendous relief from ongoing head tension.

Height

You should choose an office chair that is easily adjustable for your height. You should choose a chair that allows you to have your feet flat to the floor for additional thigh and leg support.

Width

The chair should allow you to sit comfortably and securely, 17 - 12 inches wide is standard. The seat should be deep enough so that you can sit with your back to the backrest without compromising your feet touching the floor.

Head Support

The headrest should be adjustable, but steady. It should allow flexibility for your individual needs and provide relief from tense neck muscles.

Get the Right Desk

Sitting at a desk that is too high or low can contribute to repetitive strain, spinal problems and headaches.

Thankfully there is a range of desk options to choose from so you can find the right one for you and your postural comfort.

Desk converters are a great option for those who prefer to switch between standing and sitting throughout the day to relieve tension and standing desks that keep you on your feet and moving all day are great for circulation and relieving muscle tension along the spinal cord.

If you are unsure as to which desk is best for you, opt for an adjustable desk, so you can experiment with different positions until you find what feels right.

Move Frequently

Taking frequent breaks from sitting to move your body can help to alleviate back and head tension. Our bodies are designed to move, and staying in one position for hours stiffens muscles and creates tightness throughout the body.

Even if you do not get up and move, switching positions frequently can also help. You can improve your posture while sitting by:

  • Stretching your muscles

  • Avoiding crossed legs

  • Align your ankles and knees

  • Giving yourself neck massages

Poor postural alignments are often the cause of persistent headaches. Easily misdiagnosed or mistaken for other triggers, postural related headaches are the bane of many peoples workday. If left too long you could find yourself developing additional negative health outcomes such as fatigue, low mood and even depression.

If you have failed to address your recurring headaches with traditional methods, your chair may be the problem. Swapping your old office chair for an ergonomic one may bring you the comfort and relief you have been looking for.