The most practical thing you can do to improve your overall health is MOVE. Now this may be a daunting idea if you don’t currently have an exercise routine or feel like you just don’t have the time. Luckily, being active doesn’t have to mean all or nothing. Adding in movement throughout the day is a time-efficient and effective way to still get the benefit from physical activity. Now although some of this information may feel very simple, in this case, simple can often be the most impactful.
The importance of movement
You may be familiar with the adage: “movement is medicine” – but what does this really mean?
Consider the little things that happen throughout your day. We’ve seen some of our patients reach a plateau where they’re doing everything we give them for their neck, posture, etc, but throughout the day, they may have a sedentary job. For example, consider if you’re always sitting with your legs crossed or standing and leaning to one side versus the other. These little habits can result in different compensation patterns.
Little things can add up to make an impact when it’s happening frequently during the day. When we add moments of movement, it breaks up these patterns that may result in imbalances throughout the body. Someone may have the perfect neutral posture that they maintain throughout the day, but even this can put unnecessary stress on our joints and muscles. The best way to combat this? Movement! We always tell our patients that the best posture is the next posture. Being dynamic throughout the day is key. With all of that said you may be wondering how this impacts headaches and migraines. Here are some key takeaways to think about:
- Increasing circulation
- This is a big tip on how to manage trigger points. Trigger points are fibers in a muscle that are contracted. When we have trigger points, it can actually limit the blood flow that can get into the area. The lack of oxygen and blood flow causes a reaction of cytokines, which are proteins in our bodies that transmit a pain signal. In this case, that muscle is most likely responding to the tension and lack of blood flow, which can be immediately improved by adding movement.
- When we move, our bodies release endorphins. Endorphins are extremely important because they act as the body’s natural painkillers, elevate our mood, decrease stress, and generally improve how we physically feel.
- We want to use our whole body
- Repetitive, small movements don’t teach our bodies how to use all available motion. This can create stress on the specific joints or muscles involved, increasing the likelihood of pain. We want to move our joints to their full extent to reduce too much stress on a specific area.
Why is sitting bad?
Sitting has a massive impact on your musculoskeletal system, especially when you’re sitting in a slouched, forward head position. Let’s break this down with an example. If you hold a bowling ball close to your body, the weight should feel fairly manageable. You may find that it’s not much of a strain at all to hold it for an extended period. Now, consider if you extend your arms out in front of you while holding that same ball in your hands. It would feel much heavier and you probably wouldn’t want to hold it for very long because of the strain it would place on your arms. You can think of your head resting on your neck in the same way.
Your head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds when it’s in a neutral position. However, look at the pounds of pressure placed on the neck in the following degrees of forward tilting:
- At 15 degrees, the head weighs 27 pounds (12.3 kilograms)
- At 30 degrees, it increases to 40 pounds (18.2 kilograms)
- At 45 degrees, it weighs 49 pounds (22.3 kilograms)
- At 60 degrees, it exerts a force of 60 pounds on the cervical spine. (27.3 kilograms)
Our cervical spine is built to handle all of these weights because of the available motion at the joints. This indicates that the weight isn’t the issue, but rather the time spent in that position. Over time, the muscles that support our neck and our back are having to work harder for longer, which translates to stress on the joints as well. Oftentimes, this stress is felt at the upper part of the neck and base of the skull.
Another interesting thing that recent studies are showing, is that sitting in a forward head position changes the afferent signals going to our brain. Afferent signals tell us where we are in space by monitoring joint position through muscle function (i.e. if a muscle is contracted, relaxed, stretched, shortened, etc.). Our brains work hard to take this information and combine it with signals from our visual and vestibular systems to determine where we are. This is referred to as our proprioception. When these signals are off, it can cause things like cervicogenic dizziness.
On top of this, our head position can also impact our ability to breathe. When we sit with our head forward, it forces our neck and shoulder muscles to kick in during our breathing patterns. Why is this a problem? It further increases stress on those muscles and in relation, the joints they attach to.
Finally, our head position can also alter autonomic function. The sympathetic nervous system can be ramped up in this forward head position. What this means is that the fight or flight system in our body can be fired up which then can manifest as anxiety and higher stress levels.
How do we combat the significant impact sitting has on our bodies? We get out of this position as much as possible and MOVE.
Let’s look at some easy ways to start:
First, take a look at your work setup. Oftentimes this is where we spend a good chunk of our day, so we might as well maximize that time.
We regularly recommend standing desks to our patients, but if this isn’t a possibility, there are other things you can do. For example, how far are you from the restroom/printer? Can you make that trek more often (and drink more water in the process?)? If you regularly use an elevator but stairs are an option, this is a quick and easy way to get your heart rate up. Sometimes just setting a timer or using your lunch break to take a quick stretch or walk break can be enough to begin combatting the impact of sitting.
Another place to begin adding in movement is at home! Consider your morning and evening routines. While the coffee is brewing or the oven is preheating, try a few standing stretches. You can also get the whole family involved by planning a short walk or taking some time to play outside.
If you’re looking at starting a full exercise routine, evaluate your current activity levels and find something you enjoy doing. The biggest hurdle with movement is simply sticking to it and being consistent.
With all of this said, adding movement throughout your day and simply avoiding a sedentary seated position can be a beneficial way to make an “exercise routine” feel less daunting. Movement doesn’t need to be all or nothing and instead can be incorporated throughout your day to receive the same benefits. We hope these tips help you add a little more activity throughout your day, but if you find your headaches and migraines make it feel near impossible, give our office a call today!