Stress can have a lot of negative impacts on the body, one of the major ones being headaches. Stress headaches, otherwise, known as “tension headaches,” are the most common type of headache experienced in adults. Ninety percent of adults have had or will have a tension headache in their lifetime. Tension headaches are more common during pregnancy due to the hormonal and biomechanical changes that your body goes through. The weight of the baby pulls your center of mass forward, including your head. The average head weighs 12 pounds so your tiny little neck muscles are trying to pull your head back over your spine. When these muscles (suboccipitals) get tight it can create tension headaches.
Before considering treatment options for headaches, it is important to note that there are a variety of things that can either cause or exacerbate your headache, including both emotional and physical stresses. Some of these factors are easier to control than others. For example, physical stressors include prolonged sitting, poor posture, and lack of sleep. There are things we can do to try to reduce the negative effects of these physical stressors, such as taking frequent mini-breaks (1-2 minutes) away from your desk and computer screen if you have a desk job. You should take a break to stand up at least once every 30 minutes. Set a timer on your phone to take breaks from sitting throughout the day if you do sit for most of it . You also want to make sure you are sitting with proper posture.
Proper Sitting Posture
When sitting, your ears should sit directly over your shoulders and shoulders directly over your hips to promote good back and head posture. In addition, getting enough adequate sleep is important when it comes to preventing headaches. Sleep is when our body heals and a lack of adequate sleep can actually cause or exacerbate your headache. This can be tough during pregnancy but try to follow a regular sleep schedule if you possibly can.
Often headaches are due to decreased mobility in the spine and an imbalance (tightness or weakness) in the muscles of the head, neck, jaw, and upper back. As far as treatment options go, you can start with specific exercises to help loosen up and strengthen these muscles. If you are interested in learning more about specific exercises and other tips for reducing headaches, check out our Headaches Booklet here. Medication might help you make it through a busy day with a headache, medications tend to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying cause of your headache and often are not an option during pregnancy.
Incorporate exercise into your every day routine! This can be as simple as going for a 30 minute walk, doing yoga, elliptical, swimming. Also setting up an ergonomically correct workstation and mindful breathing are all great places to start.
Bergland, C. (2017, May 16). Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises and Your Vagus Nerve. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/diaphragmatic-breathing-exercises-and-your-vagus-nerve