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.

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