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How to fix waking up with a headache and dizziness
Physiotherapists are reporting more people seeking treatment for symptoms related to forward-head posture. These symptoms include headaches and dizziness. Up to now, research into neck mobility and dizziness has been inconclusive. Just published research changes this.
The reason more people are presenting for physiotherapy is a result of working from home, due to the pandemic. We're not only working with suboptimal ergonomic set-ups but also extra distraction and stress.
For example, I find it takes longer to get many simple things done.
Before the lock-downs, I already worked 3 or 4 days a week from home, so I didn't think that it would make a big difference. I now realise how many small issues I solved on those one or two days I spent with my clients.
Why you wake up with a headache
Working always from home means that I am now working longer hours to get simple things done, and the boundaries between personal and work time have dissolved. I'm spending more time sitting in front of my monitor.
I suspect that many people are spending more time sitting and have less-than-perfect ergonomic set-ups. Our heads are heavy and in a constant battle with gravity.
When we sit too long, the muscles in the back of our neck tire and start to contract continuously. These contractions lead to compressed nerves, and restricted blood flow (and oxygen) up into our skull.
Anxiety adds to the muscular tension, increasing the problems. When muscles become traumatised in this way, they stay tense during the night - they don't let go of their grip. That's why you wake up with a headache.
Studies have found associations between the general range of motion of our neck (cervical spine) and headaches and dizziness. This research is regarded as "promising" for designing potential clinical interventions - which means that some studies show far less association than others.
Up to now, no one had studied the specific relationship between forward-head posture, headaches and dizziness. In the March 2020 issue of Gait & Posture researchers reported on results from such a study.
Participants with forward-head posture (FHP) were "strictly matched" to a control group deemed to have normal head alignment.
The results: "Participants with FHP exhibited abnormal sensorimotor control and autonomic nervous system dysfunction compared to those with normal head alignment".
One of the outcomes of "abnormal sensorimotor control" is dizziness.
Abnormal control means that the neck is unable to communicate the position of the head to the brain effectively.
In turn, the brain is then unable to properly coordinate all incoming positional signals, e.g. from our ankles, eyes and ears (the vestibular system). This leads to wobbles as the brain struggles to position our next move, and hence the feeling of dizziness or floating.
Fantastic news, you can apply proven methods
There's good news.
There are well-established ways to correct forward-head posture caused by extended sitting and poor posture. Physiotherapists have great success with these sorts of methods - provided their patients keep doing what is prescribed.
For a start, take those breaks that you have meant to take ever since work-from-home started. Get a Pomodoro Timer plug-in for your browser, and set it to remind you to stand every 25 minutes. When it rings don't ignore it - stand up and stretch, and take a walk.
You can also do this simple exercise twice a day. Try once in bed before you get up, and once more when you hit the sack:
Three more practical resources
Here are three more resources where you'll find options to help. Choose the exercises that appeal to you as ones that will build into your normal day, and which you will continue.
Don't be over ambitious, you just need 2 or 3 that you do every day:
Doing your chosen exercises consistently will put you on the road to correcting forward head posture and eliminating any associated dizziness.
Remember - the time needed to relieve your neck is related to the length of time you have had the tension and anxiety. Be patient, be consistent
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