headache blog from Dr. Norman MarcusA recent study of office workers who complained of weekly headaches examined the effect of a simple resistance exercise program for the neck and shoulders, and found an approximately 50% reduction in headache frequency.

Headaches are the most commonly reported pain problem. If brief exercise can have such a dramatic effect on headache frequency, it should be considered as a standard intervention for all office workers who appear to have muscle tension type headaches. One possible reason brief exercise is so effective is that it may help relax tense muscles which can become stiff from repetitive strain, for example bending your head and neck over a desk for hours at a time.  Simply performing an action to address headaches on a daily basis may also make you more aware of the circumstances surrounding a headache episode. Since headaches are frequently brought on with emotional stress, being more aware of and addressing stress can reduce headache frequency.

Even though self-awareness can help, knowing what you are thinking and feeling is not as easy to achieve as one might imagine. Many of my patients report becoming aware of unsettling feelings and sometimes divulge situations that have been troubling to them while doing their prescribed exercises. There are many thoughts and feelings that are upsetting for us to acknowledge. It may be difficult to admit that you are angry or resentful towards someone you love or someone on whom you depend for your livelihood. We may be uncomfortable or ashamed to admit to feelings of fear or envy. Repressing or denying thoughts and feelings can lead to increases in muscle tension with resultant headaches, and to symptoms of anxiety.

If it’s all about repressed feelings why don’t all the headaches or anxiety symptoms disappear when we become more conscious? H.L. Menken said that “there is always a simple solution for a complex problem, and it is usually wrong.” Exercise addresses a different reason for your neck pain than struggling with uncomfortable emotions. When it comes to persistent pain problems, a multi-faceted approach which addresses multiple sources of discomfort may provide the most relief.


Filed under: pain management

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