Proven Link: tension headaches and weak neck muscles

The muscles of the back of the neck have the important job of keeping your head from falling forward. Without them you’d constantly be planting your face in your soup.

The trouble is, today’s jobs require you to spend too much time with your head hanging forward and your eyes glued to the computer screen. That overloads those extensor muscles in the back of the neck. Weakness of these muscles has now been proven to be linked to headache and neck pain.

That means that a program to alleviate tension headache has to include strengthening exercises for the neck extensors.

I’ve devised an optimal strengthening exercise for these muscles. Here’s the most basic version

  1. Find a stool (a padded one works best – or else place a pillow on top of it)
  2. Lie face down with your chest on the stool. Your head and about two inches of your upper back should hang forward over the stool.
  3. Slowly lift your head until it’s aligned with your upper back. This activates the important neck extensor muscles.
  4. Slowly lower, then repeat 6-8 times.

You can try this at home. Of course, if it hurts or feels wrong, stop immediately.)

Although you might find your headaches getting better just from this one exercise, most people with headaches need a more comprehensive approach.

A more effective plan for fixing your headache pattern has 4 parts. Here’s how I incorporate them into my practice:

  1. Strengthen your neck muscles. Starting with the basic exercise outlined above, I show you ways to make it successively more challenging to boost your functional neck strength effectively.
  2. Release the tight knots of the neck muscles. Hands-on treatment with trigger point therapy, myofascial release, and NeuroTactile ™ Therapy can all help.
  3. Improve your body alignment with proper ergonomic design and postural awareness. In my practice I teach the important factors in spine alignment and help your body incorporate them as an unconscious habit.
  4. Unlock restricted motion of the joints of the neck and upper back. That’s the role of the joint play maneuvers I utilize, including basic chiropractic adjustments.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

More on exercise for neck pain

Chiropractic better for neck pain




About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
This entry was posted in Body Awareness, Posture, Alignment, Exercise & Fitness, Neck Pain, Headache and Pinched Nerves and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.