Common causes of Headaches, Upper Back & Neck Pain and what to do to prevent it

Common causes of Headaches, Upper Back & Neck Pain and what to do to prevent it

Did you know that an average head weighs approximately 5kg, with kids not far behind? Our neck works very hard to hold our head up and consists of 7 small vertebrae, numerous ligaments and muscles that extend from our skull to our shoulders and into our upper back. With this in mind, is it any wonder that poor posture can contribute to headaches and upper back and neck pain!

What are the causes of headaches and upper back and neck pain?

Headaches and upper back and neck pain are caused when various structures of your head, neck or upper back become inflamed or irritated. The structures can include:

  • Muscles and skin of the head, neck and upper back
  • Nerves of the head and neck
  • Arteries leading to the brain
  • Membranes of the ear, nose and throat
  • The sinuses (part of the respiratory system)


From a musculoskeletal perspective, things that can contribute to the irritation are:

  • Stress
  • Muscular tension
  • Dental or jaw problems
  • Dehydration
  • Poor posture
  • Infections
  • Diet
  • Eye problems
  • Hormonal influences
  • Medications
  • Problems in the ear, nose and throat
  • Injury to the head, neck or spine

How do we adjust our posture?

When seated, it is important for us to sit on the bony bits of our bottom. To experiment with this, put both your hands under your bottom and feel the bony bits as you roll onto them and off them. When you are sitting on them, you maintain the curve through your lower back and your shoulders stay stacked over your pelvis. This then allows your shoulders to stay open and your neck to have length and your eyes to stay level.

With the frightening amount of time we now spend on our devices, whether it be at the desk computer, on a laptop, tablet or phone, you can imagine the changes that will occur through your upper back and neck. The constant looking down and the level that those muscles will have to work to hold your head up against gravity is astounding. That is in an adult head! Imagine what is happening with our children’s still developing bodies!

Things to do to help prevent postural strain

  • Limit time at the computer. Every 30-60 minutes, put an alarm on your computer, to get up have a short walk and when you sit back down, reassess your seated posture.
  • Ensure the correct set up at your desk. Make sure your seat is pulled into the desk, the keyboard is close to you and most importantly you are not reaching out for the mouse.
  • With tablets and phones, bring them up to eye level as much as possible and prevent long periods of looking down at them.

Things to do to be proactive against postural strain

  • Every night, lie on the ground with a pillow under your head and your knees bent. We call this ‘neutral position’. Lie like this for 5 mins and just relax into your breathing
  • A step up from this is to add a wheat bag or rolled up small towel down the length of your spine. Remember, knees must be bent. This acts as a fulcrum and opens out your mid back (thoracic spine) and chest. You must only do this for 5 mins and then gently roll off onto your side and get up slowly.
  • Place a wheat bag on your neck and shoulders. Our favourite one is the wheat bag wrap we have at the clinic. It allows you to let the heat do its work, whilst also reminding you to drop your shoulders
  • Upper back strength work at the gym (speak to your osteo or myo for more info)
  • Pilates
  • Yoga

If you require more information, please come and see one of our practitioners at the clinic to see if your posture is contributing to your pain.

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This article is for information purposes only. Please consult your Osteopath or primary healthcare professional for further information.

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