Why poor posture can give you headaches

Do you get headaches from just sitting at your office computer for a couple of hours? How about experiencing headaches after a long commute or a couple of hours studying for your exams? Think that poor posture is no big deal? Think again!

You see, we spend most of our days sitting. We are sitting in our cars during our daily commute. We sit at our 9 to 5 jobs. At the end of the day, we then go home and sit in front of our TVs or laptops to chill out after a long tiring day at work. Combine all that sitting with poor posture and you have a recipe for cervicogenic headaches, or in other words, a headache which originates from your cervical spine.

How does my poor posture cause cervicogenic headaches?

A slouched, chin poke posture causes cervicogenic headaches by:

  • Placing stress on the upper cervical joints particularly C0/1, C2/3 and C3/4
  • Causing restriction and cervical joint stiffness over time
  • Altering your cervical and shoulder girdle muscle function causing shortening of particular neck and anterior shoulder muscles and creating tender trigger points
  • Causing sensitisation of cervical neural tissues
  • Increasing suboccipital muscle tone and tenderness, as it acts as a protective measure for your upper cervical spine
  • Adding strain on the surrounding upper cervical neural and muscle structures

What are the symptoms of a cervicogenic headache?

  • Headache on one side of the head
  • Vague pain on one side of the neck, shoulder and arm
  • Moderate, non-excruciating pain usually in a non-throbbing nature
  • Pain starting from the neck, eventually spreading into the head, which is where the maximum pain is usually located
  • Pain triggered by neck movement and / or sustained awkward position
  • Headaches experienced after sustaining neck trauma
  • Autonomic symptoms and signs (e.g. nausea, vomiting, dizziness, light sensitivity and blurred vision)
  • Stiff neck
  • Tenderness along the base of the skull

Physiotherapy is the best cure because:

Physiotherapy is the best cure for cervicogenic headaches because it offers a holistic approach with a fairly rapid and sustained outcome. An experienced physiotherapist will address numerous factors that cause cervicogenic headaches by:

  • Applying gentle manual therapy to cervical joints to restore normal range of movement in your cervical spine
  • Stretching shortened and restrictive muscles that add stress to upper cervical joints and neural structures that are causing your headaches
  • Applying soft tissue massage to resolve sore trigger points
  • Correcting your posture. We often do this by applying tape and prescribing strength exercises to retrain weak postural muscles
  • Applying neuromuscular control exercises to restore your normal movement patterns
  • Provide you with your own tailored home exercise program to ensure you have some control over your rehabilitation so that you can achieve a quicker and sustained recovery

Having poor posture can place unnecessary strain on your upper cervical spine and its surrounding structures, which can result in cervicogenic headaches. Physiotherapy offers a multifaceted approach addressing your muscle imbalances, joint stiffness and posture in order treat your cervicogenic headaches quickly and with long lasting results.

Julie Nguyen is based at our Penrith and Blacktown offices and has a special interest in spinal pain and is a Certified Mulligan Practitioner.


  • Brukner K & Khan P 2017. Clinical Sports Medicine. 5th Australia: McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Rheumatology 2005. The role of physiotherapy in the management of non-specific back pain and neck pain. (ONLINE) Available at: https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/rheumatology/kei242 (Accessed on 10 May 2017)