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Headaches And Migraines: Shoulder Tension to Blame?

Let’s talk about headaches. Ranging from a mid-afternoon head pounding ache, to an agonizing pain. Headaches are something most, if not all of us, have experienced at some point in our life. For some, headaches are a bigger problem and can even affect everyday life. But did you know shoulder tension is often the culprit? Lauren who is a patient of mine, wrote in an email to me before she came to see us:

Hi Jennifer, I’m 56 and have been suffering from migraines ever since I was a teenager and I’ve never been able to get to the root of the problem. Usually in the past I put my migraines down to stress or a lack of sleep. Then I thought it might be something that I’m eating instead. The thing is, I took away all of the foods that are said to set off headaches like cheese and chocolate…but nothing really changed.

I don’t know if this is true, but I heard once that shoulder tension can sometimes bring headaches on? I thought you’d be the best person to ask. Is this right or am I being silly? I’m tired of getting migraines when I least expect them! It’s awful when they strike in the middle of shopping.” – Lauren, 56, Olympia, WA

It’s Likely Your Shoulders and Neck

Lauren certainly was right about shoulder tension being related to this common problem! And I can imagine you would have found it hard to believe me if I told you that 87% of headaches come from tight and tense muscles in your shoulders and neck. You’re not alone! Most people don’t realize that it’s often got nothing to do with the foods we eat.

Instead the culprit is often tension that you never even knew existed in your shoulders in the first place. Mainly because you’re just so used to it. Or, you just brush it aside thinking a “stiff neck” just comes as part of getting older. But if I asked you – if you ever find yourself resting your head in an awkward position whilst you’re watching TV, if you ever lean your head forward when you read, or even stick your neck forward when using your phone or computer, I can bet you answer ‘yes’.

Shoulder Tension and Neck Tightness Can Wreak Havoc

All of those things can cause muscles in your neck to become tired, which means one thing – lots of tension! Which is exactly what was going on with my patient Lauren. For years Lauren was working an office job where she spent hours each day leaning her neck forward looking at a computer screen – no wonder why when we helped ease her neck tension, her migraines became less and less of a regular occurrence!

So What Can Be Done?

Now I know that if your job requires working on a computer you’re not going to be able to suddenly stop looking at one. I’m also not going to tell you to stop reading, or to never watch TV again. But what I am going to tell you are the three things you can start to do today. 3 things to help ease neck tension that leads to all sorts of headaches…

  1. Be aware of the position of your neck – if you notice that your neck is pushed forwards, tuck your chin in towards your neck to help straighten it and put it back into the right position.
  2. Relax in a warm bath – muscles love to be warm and warm muscles means less tension. So run yourself a nice warm bath, lay back and relax.
  3. Talk to our team about the special package we have designed especially for migraine and headache sufferers. It’s something called the Organic Treatment Program that my physical therapists put together. It’s the perfect combination of massage and gentle posture and neck stabilization exercises in addition to ergonomics coaching. They will help you best manage the stressors to your neck in order to reduce headaches. Give us a call and get started today!


The new episode of “Stay Healthy South Sound” – Dr. Penrose’s monthly podcast – is now live! This month she interviewed Christine Kulhawik, Licensed Acupuncturist and Certified Functional Nutritionist. She owns Watershed Wellness in Tumwater, WA and you can find them here on Facebook or visit them online at Topics include benefits of acupuncture, who it’s for and how it works (including its connection to your immune health). Listen to it today at these links!


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Jennifer Penrose

Penrose Physical Therapy

"Leading Experts Helping People Become More Active and Mobile, Reduce Stress and Achieve Longevity… So They Can Enjoy Great Health For Years to Come!"

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