5 Stretches to Prevent Tension Headaches

Tension-type headaches are very common for people of all ages. Unlike the migraine that carries neurological character, tension headaches are less severe but often develop when scalp, neck and shoulder muscles become tense, giving rise to a dull pain and tightness at the back of the head that can spread across the forehead1. Emotional and mental stress, sitting in one position for prolonged periods, and sleep deprivation are common triggers for extra pressure on the neck.

We often think that headache relief can only come with over-the-counter medications. However, since the symptoms manifest themselves musculoskeletally, loosening tense muscles may help relieve and prevent future occurrence of tension headaches. Stretching is one of the easiest and effective ways to alleviate strain in the head and neck muscles. We’ve put together stretching techniques that can help relieve muscle tension to prevent tension headaches.

 

1. Neck Retraction

 

Main muscles stretched: Neck extensors

Technique: This stretch can be performed either in standing or sitting position. Keeping the back straight and shoulders relaxed, tuck your chin into the neck (as if you are trying to create a double chin). While holding this position, gently nod your head until you feel a good stretch at the back of your neck.

Relax and hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat 15 times.

2. Diagonal Neck Stretch

 

Main muscles stretched: Upper Trapezius, Scalenes, Levator Scapulae

Technique: The stretch can be performed either in standing or sitting position. Keeping the back straight and shoulders relaxed, gently tilt you head diagonally towards your chest. Place your hand on top of the head, apply steady and gentle pressure to pull your head forward on diagonal until you feel a good stretch.

Hold for 15-30 seconds. Return your head into a neutral position. Do the same stretch on the other side of the neck. Repeat 5 times.

3. Side Neck Stretch

 

Main muscles stretched: Sternocleidomastoids, Upper Trapezius

Technique: The stretch can be performed either in standing or sitting position. Keeping the back straight and shoulders relaxed, use the opposite hand to gently guide your right ear toward right shoulder until you feel a good stretch on the left side of the neck.

Hold for 15-30 seconds. Return your head into a neutral position. Do the same stretch on the other side of the neck. Repeat 5 times.

4. Seated Scapula Retraction / Pec Stretch

 

Main muscles stretched: Pectoralis major

Technique: Bring your shoulder blades together and downwards as if you are trying to put your elbows in your back pockets. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your spine in neutral position.

Hold this position for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

5. Assisted Neck Flexion Stretch

  

Main muscles stretched: Trapezius

Technique: The stretch can be performed either in standing or sitting position. Keeping the back straight, move your head into neck retraction position, clasp hands behind your head and guide your head forward bringing the chin towards your chest.

Hold for 15-30 seconds. Return your head into a neutral position. Repeat 5 times.

 

Remember that along with finding time for stretch breaks, maintaining a balanced diet and staying away from stress is necessary for a long-term prevention of tension headaches.

 

References:

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. 4 ways to tame tension headaches – Harvard Health [Internet]. Harvard Health Blog. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/4-ways-to-tame-tension-headaches

 

Alia Arslanova – Client Care Manager/Cardio Trainer

Alia has been doing sports since childhood: rhythmic gymnastics, tennis, synchronized swimming, and currently does Police Judo. Being constantly active, learning about human anatomy and kinetics makes her happy so choosing Kinesiology as her academic and career goal is a perfect match!

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