Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific exercise. This month we’ll taking a look at something that is common to a lot of adults – tension headaches – and how a weak core can be a significant cause of tension headaches one simple fix you can do to help reduce the frequency of tension headaches.
How To Reduce Tension Headaches With Core Strengthening
Significant research out there shows that the weaker core you have, the more likely you are to experience chronic back pain issues. But what about headaches? Can a weak core be a cause of tension headaches – the most common type of headache among adults?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least forty-seven percent of people have a headache at least once a year (1). Tension type headaches are the most common type of headaches is reported by more than seventy percent of some populations and effects one to three percent of people on a regular basis. In particular, it usually begins in the teenage years and it effects three women to every to men (1). Tension headaches are characterized by increased muscle tenderness with increasing headache frequency and intensity. Where I work in the emergency room, acute bouts of headaches are often treated with a combination of IV medications such as benadryl, reglan, and toradol.
Tension Headaches Related To A Weak Core?
A study came out recently (which wasn’t the first of its kind) to show that those with a weaker core are more likely to have tension headaches. This study in particular looked at sixty different people who had tension headaches on average of at least eight days per month. While the participants were laying flat on their back, they looked at the strength of the shoulder and neck muscles. What they found was that those people with weaker muscles that control neck extension were more likely to experience frequent or chronic tension headaches.
Neck Extension Muscles and Tension Headaches
So what exactly are neck extension muscles? Any muscles that help bring the back of your head closer to your back. Neck flexion would be the opposite of that: muscles that bring your chin closer to your chest. Many people think of the core as just of what they can see: the front abdominal muscles. When in fact, the core extends far beyond the abdominal muscles that everyone loves to see and includes deep muscles in the pelvic floor and small muscles within the back, neck, and shoulder girdle. One of the problems that is plaguing our current culture is the problem of sitting where leaning over puts our back muscles into a lengthened/weakened state.
Picture looking at a downward angle towards a computer screen with your chin closer to your neck. Holding this movement for hours throughout the day can weaken the neck extensors and if you have tension headaches, can make you have more frequent or worse tension headaches. To reduce tension headaches with a stronger core there are several exercises you can do but there is one that in my opinion is quite easy for anyone to do.
Reduce Tension Headaches With A Stronger Core
To develop the neck extensor muscles to help reduce tension headaches with a stronger core the exercise we will be taking a look at is called the superman exercise:
This exercise is called a superman pose because, well, you get to pretend you’re superman. This is a holding exercise in which you want to hold this pose for as long as possible. While this exercise primarily works the erector spinae (the muscles that run up and down the center of your spine) it also activates your glutes to help hold the position. Where your neck comes into play, that in order to hold the position, stabilizer muscles of your neck need to contract in order to help all of the other muscles out – the same neck extensor muscles that would be involved with reducing tension headaches. This is a simple exercise to add to your current exercise routine or if you’re able to, do this exercise several times throughout the day.
A Word Of Caution:
For those people who already have lower back problems and who are unable to tolerate this position due to the stress it puts on the lower back, you may have to work your way up to this position. There is a modified version of this form here:
The key to holding this position is trying to keep your back as straight and neutral as possible. When you lift your leg and arm out, work your hardest to keep your hips level and from rotating out. If you had a leveler across your hips, you would want to be working as hard as possible to keep the leveler straight. Eventually by increasing the core strength in your back you can progress to the superman version.
Reducing tension headaches with a stronger core is something that you can do at home. For some it may mean less trips to an emergency room to deal with severe tension headaches while for others it may just mean less ibuprofen or tylenol. Hopefully, through time, you will experience reduced tension headaches with a stronger core.
1. N.a. “Headache Disorders.” World Health Organization. October 2012. Web. 25 May 2015.
2. Anderson, L., Jensen, R., Madsen, B., Skotte, J., Sogaard, K. “Neck and Shoulder Muscle Strength In Patients With Tension-Type Headache: A Case-Control Study.” Journal Of Cephalalgia. 1 April 2015. Web. 25 May 2015.