Headaches can ruin your day, but there are a few things you can do to help manage symptoms. 

Usually, when you’re running around between work, daycare and home jobs, you don’t even notice a headache until it hits you. Once you feel that beating intensify, it seems like the only option is medication, which can certainly help, but isn’t the only option. Instead of dealing with the frustration of regular headaches, try these small changes. As a physiotherapist and wellness consultant, I’ve seen the difference these changes can make for my patients after just a few weeks. So give them a try!

Please note: The headaches referred to in this article do not include migraine headaches as these can be vascular in origin. However, trying these tips can help migraine sufferers too.

Who gets headaches and why?

Sadly, so many of my patients suffering from regular headaches are resigned to the thought there’s nothing they can do. It’s just not true. As a physio, spinal pain related issues in the neck and lower back are the most common issues I see, and they affect people of all ages. However, busy women between 25-60 are my most common headache patients. 

Why? I put it down to a number of reasons:

  • Regular static postures: Desk work, driving, feeding young children
  • Decreased muscle bulk around the upper back and neck compared to men
  • Stress and tension held in the jaw and upper shoulders

Just because you fall into the category of increased risk of headaches though, it doesn’t mean they’re inevitable. Here are 5 things you can do to decrease your risk of headache, and make daily life seem more manageable. 

1 – Set an alarm on your phone and do 5 double chins every hour

Whether you work from home, an office or you enjoy regular computer time, static posture while sitting at a desk increases your risk of headache. This happens because your chin inevitably pokes forwards, creating an increase in force below your skull in your upper cervical spine, and where your neck meets your back, at the cervicothoracic junction. This force creates muscle tension and headache.

Introducing: The dreaded double chin. While you may hate double chins, they’re really handy for minimising force in your neck and headache. 

How to: Draw your chin back over your collarbone to stop your chin poking forwards. 

So! Try five double chins every hour. Not only will this stop your chin poking more regularly, but you’ll also be more productive as we know stopping a taste every 50 minutes boosts productivity.

2 – Change your screen height

I get my patients to send me a photo of them sitting at their computers, and we trace a line from their eye line towards the screen. Most people find their eye line is looking at the top border of the screen, meaning they have to look down to see the main area of work (mid-screen) Constantly nodding your chin causes pulling on the back of the neck and can lead to a headache.

So! Ask someone to take a photo of you sitting at your computer. If your chin is parallel to the ground, are you looking straight ahead at the middle of the screen? If not, pop some books underneath your screen to raise it up. If you work on a laptop, a Bluetooth or remote keyboard is a must-have.

3 – Add neck stretches to your daily routine/coffee break

When you sit down for a coffee, try a few necks stretches. Women notoriously hold tension in their upper shoulders, and most of these muscles attach to the neck. When they’re tight, they can pull, causing a headache. 

How to: Sit on your right hand, palm facing upwards. Gently let your left ear move to your left shoulder and lift your chin slightly. You should feel a gentle pull on the muscles on the right side of the neck. 

Tip: Never pull on your head for neck stretches. The human head is heavy, a whopping 5kg! The weight of your head creates enough pulling to generate significant stretching.

4 – Poke out your tongue

If you’re a jaw clencher, like most of us during periods of stress, poking out your tongue is the most effective way to switch off the jaw and neck muscles. Give it a try! You’ll find the tension in your face and jaw changes, which can provide a much-needed moment of relief.

5 – Try to complete 20 belly breaths a day

When we’re stressed, many of us breathe using our accessory respiratory muscles which are the muscles of the upper chest and neck. This can cause tightness and headaches. Unless we’re in respiratory distress or exercising at maximal intensity, we really shouldn’t use these muscles to help us breathe. 

Instead, use your diaphragm. This powerful muscle is the most efficient respiratory muscle we have and when used well, can ensure we don’t use the muscles of the neck to breathe.

How to: Sit up tall and place your hands on your belly. As you inhale, gently inflate your belly. As you exhale, notice your belly deflate. 

Many of my patients find this difficult to start with, as they’re so used to lifting their shoulders with every breath. Practising just 20 per day (during a coffee break, waiting at the traffic lights, waiting for the jug to boil) can not only decrease headache frequency but also decrease your stress levels.

Headaches are hugely common, but they don’t have to be. Just a few habit changes can make a huge difference. It’s hard to remember all these things though, so make it easier by using your phone to help. Set an alarm (preferably a gong sound or something not too obnoxious!) to sound every hour from 10 am – 5 pm. When it sounds, try to do one of the following:

  • Draw your chin back into a double chin
  • Drink some water
  • Poke out your tongue
  • Belly breathe
  • Stretch your neck

Most of my patients find it hard to start these things initially, but then they become a habit. You can too. You’ve got this!


Caitlin Reid is an Australian Physiotherapist and wellness consultant practising in NZ. After recovering from a serious injury 5 years ago, she started Aprive Wellness as a side hustle; where she offers inspiring wellbeing tips to her community, hosts retreats and consults at retreats around the world.

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