One of the main complaints we hear from office workers are the tension headaches that present themselves during the work day. Tension headaches are frustrating as they are not only painful but can lead to low productivity in the workplace. These types of headaches feel like a dull ache in the neck, base of head (where the neck joins into the head) and into the forehead and eyes. They are extremely common and will often present themselves in times of stress or fatigue. But what are some ways you can reduce the frequency and/or intensity of your tension headaches? I have devised a list below of some points to consider:
- Pay attention to your desk ergonomics and posture: Having your desk, screen and chair set up correctly for you can make the world of difference. In most medium to large companies you should have access to an occupational health and safety officer who can actually do this for you and ensure you have the correct equipment needed for your role. Management usually understands that by looking after their workers ergonomics, they are going to decrease potential risk of injury and thus decrease the risk of lost productivity. In saying that, you can have a great desk set up, but still have terrible posture! Particularly, pay attention to how you are holding your head and neck when looking at the screen. Are you sticking you chin out? This can lead to compression of the joints and soft tissue at the base of the neck and can create tension here. Similarly, sitting with rounded shoulders can lead to the muscles which attach from your shoulder blade to your neck to become tight and this can also contribute to a tension headache. So in short, sit with your shoulders wide and slightly back (think collar bones wide rather than forcefully pulling your shoulder back too far) and also have your chin tucked in like you are making a double chin, but again not too forcefully, it should be a gentle movement.
- Take breaks to drink/eat and get up to move around: We are not designed to sit and stare at a screen for 8 hours uninterrupted. Doing this can lead to stress, muscle and mental fatigue. Getting up regularly to take breaks even if that means walking around the office for a minute can make a world of difference. Drinking enough water is also of key importance so as to not be dehydrated which is another common trigger for headaches. If you are a serial offender of eating lunch at your desk then stop and try to take you break outside or at least in the lunch room. The walk and change in locations can help alleviate aches and repetitive strain placed on the body from prolonged sitting.
- Get your eyes tested: A sometimes missed point but of super importance is recognizing whether you need glasses. It’s definitely one question I routinely ask of my headache patients as there is a definitive link between eye strain and headaches. The strain may not happen until the end of the work day, however its usually those last 3-4 hours of the work day that tension headaches can arise. So make yourself an appointment with an optometrist if you are routinely getting squinty, tired or sore eyes in the afternoon accompanied with a headache.
- Regular stretching/exercise: Exercise really is the cure all for most aliments. The trend for most office workers now is to get some type of exercise in either before, during or after work and this is great to see that people are finally getting the memo! But if you are really time poor on a particular day or week, even doing some basic neck and upper back stretches at your desk can make a world of difference to reducing the intensity/frequency of your tension headaches.
- Seeing a physio to work on any problem areas in the neck/head: If you are really struggling with your tension headaches, seeing a professional to help guide you into the best possible treatment is important. There are many soft tissue and joint techniques we can employ to help stretch and loosen the tight structures as well as give you tailored exercise advice which can make a world of difference. Having your physio assess your headaches may also mean we can spot anything that’s out of the ordinary which may need referring on to your GP.