Did you know that migraines are a debilitating condition affecting more than 37 million Americans?
Migraines can have a variety of triggers which can be very hard to control. What may help one person, like coffee, can be a trigger for another. When looking at Migraines, we must consider all causes. The majority of causes or stresses to a person will be in the form of Physical, Nutritional or Emotional. Nutritional stress comes down to how what we eat impacts the overall level of inflammation in our body as well as influencing virtually every other cellular process. Emotional stress is huge. How we deal with daily stresses can have a major impact on not only migraines but even our immune function. These are vital components and need to be thoroughly addressed, but I feel that most people with migraines are at least aware of them.
The aspect I want to talk about today and one that I feel is vastly overlooked in relation to migraine treatment is the consequence of physical stress on the body. So, what is physical stress? Well, it can be the big accidents and injuries like whiplash injuries and slips and falls. What I see more commonly though, which has a very subtle but damaging effect on a person’s overall health and is a definite contributor to migraines is something every single one of us does every day of our lives. It is sitting. Sitting in and of itself, is not the problem. It is like cigarettes, one won’t kill you but years of damage will. In fact, sitting is called by many, the new smoking*.
The problem is that we sit for way too long every day and our bodies are very poorly adapted to prolonged periods of sitting. Sitting causes many problems but for migraines, I want to focus on two major ones. First off, sitting creates what is referred to in the literature as Forward Head Posture. You will call this a slouching posture. Like one cigarette, the slouch isn’t that bad but multiply the body’s time in the slouch by up to 13 hours per day, which is what a 2013 study found to be the average of how long most Americans sit per day and it can be deadly.*
By the way, this isn’t only for people stuck behind a computer all day. Between commuting, meals and TV time, I rarely find someone that doesn’t sit for at least 6-8 hours per day.
This slouching creates a slow gradual strain on the postural muscles of your upper back, neck and head. This is what I would refer to as micro trauma. Small and repetitive strains over many years damage the involved muscles and support structures of the body. Very commonly associated with migraines is upper back and neck pain To understand this better, can make the analogy of our heads being similar to a bowling ball in terms of weight. I’m sure that everyone has been bowling at some point in their lives. If you hold that bowling ball close to your body, you can typically hold it there for a while. The weight is not going to strain your arm to keep it there. Now, what if I asked you to hold that bowling ball even just one foot in front of you and hold it there for 5 minutes? What is going to happen? Even if you are able to hold it there it is going to feel much heavier. Why, because the center of gravity and your leverage changed. As a result that same ball now feels a lot heavier. The same thing happens to us every day. It has been shown that for every inch of forward head posture, or slouch, it adds 10 lbs of weight to our neck and upper back to support (Source: Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3.) I find many people tend to sit with at least 5-6 inches of forward head posture.
Your neck and upper back muscles have to hold you up, so what happens over time?
They get tired, fatigued, weak and very tight. Sound like you? As I said, this is very common. Now the worst tightness occurs where the muscles attach. The top part of the attachment is right at the base of your skull. Take a moment right now and rub the top most part of your neck where it attaches to your skull. How do both sides feel? I have found an extremely high correlation of people with migraines, tight muscles and trigger points in that area, called the occipital area. Trigger points are very tight muscles that when massaged will actually radiate pain. This area is vitally important because the upper neck is actually an extension of your brain. When this area tightens chronically, it affects blood flow and nerve flow. Sound familiar? Coffee and medications can affect blood flow to the brain as well.
There is another major problem with forward head posture. When we sit slouched, we also compress our ribcage and lungs, slightly but chronically. This compression affects our ability to reach full respiratory volume. We know that migraines are affected by Oxygen & Carbon Dioxide. In fact one of the treatments for chronic migraines is to use a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. I also have patients who regularly inhale Oxygen as a form of treatment, which by the way needs to be supervised by a doctor. The problem with these approaches, while they may help in the short term, is that they are still treating the symptoms. What is the actual problem? Because we sit all day, we are adversely affecting our ability to breathe fully and that 10 or 20% loss may not seem like a big deal, but again think about 1 cigarette vs 2 packs a day for 10 years. Now, this easily becomes a chronic, long term issue.
So what can you do? The amazing thing is that the solutions are relatively easy. First get your posture assessed by a professional like myself. In fact, anyone who is interested can email me directly or contact me on Facebook. We offer a computerized postural assessment that can be done remotely, which I am willing to do free of charge to anyone who is interested. The second thing is to simply bring some awareness to your posture. Notice, when you are slouching most often and how it feels. I find that people become so accustomed to poor posture that it actually feels better to slouch. If this is you, there is definitely a problem. The third thing I love, is a stretch called a reverse shoulder roll. Sit up straight. Take a big breath in through your nose into your belly. Hold it for 3 seconds while you bring your shoulders up to try to touch your ears. Then roll them back and down. Imagine you are trying to bring your shoulder blades together and down behind you. Keep your head up and then exhale. Do this several times per day. I love this exercise because it combines postural awareness and deep breathing. Changes take time. Take it slow but be consistent because they will help.
Dr. Brett Caminez, DC, CCEP specializes in headache and migraine treatments as well as postural correction methods which utilize Chiropractic care in conjunction with stretching and exercise programs. Dr. Caminez is one of only a handful of New York Chiropractors who are a Certified Chiropractic Extremities Practitioner (CCEP). He has been in private practice in Orangeburg NY for over 14 years. He can be reached at 845-353-1543, online at www.caminezchiropractic.com or on Facebook at CaminezChiropractic.