Your Headache May Really Be a Pain in the Butt

Is My Headache Coming from My Hips? 

Refer to my December 13 blog about how a weak link in your muscular chain can occur in your hip or leg. As a result, the altered muscle firing patterns work their way up to your neck and produce a headache. The excellent diagram of how that complicated phenomenon can be found in that blog.

The problem of left weak gluteal muscles could be felt in the opposite right shoulder blade and neck muscles. When you walk, your muscles are firing in a coordinated pattern and sequence.  If the firing pattern of any of your these muscles is out-of-order, you can end up with symptoms far away from that muscle. Your headache may be a consequence of that abnormal muscle firing.

Chapter 7 in my book, Calming the Headache Storm, discusses this condition in more depth. How does this idea play out in real life? Consider the headache condition of a 28-year-old woman. She had suffered with headaches for 11 years. She was not able to have children because of the headache medication she needed to take. In just two months she was able to escape the need for headache medication. She got on with her life and was no longer dragged down by her chronic headaches.

Her headaches came from the muscle imbalance starting in her hips. After treatment, while the stress from her job as a corporate manager did not change, but her headaches got much better. Six years after the physical therapy corrective techniques, she was able to have three children. She had no more concern over the potential effects of headache medication on her unborn children.

How Can I Test to See If I Have a Hip-Headache Problem?

Vladimir Janda was a renowned neurologist and researcher from Prague, Czechoslovakia. He demonstrated how you can identify if pain in one part of the body originates from another area of the body far away from where the problem shows up.

Look up Janda’s writings for some fascinating research on muscle physiology. However, do not read Janda if you are looking for an evening of light recreational reading. I was privileged to have been instructed by him in Chicago in October of 2002, just six weeks before he passed on.

A physical therapist can help you sort out this process of reorganizing your muscle timing and recruitment patterns. Firstly, your physical therapist will check out your leg muscle strength. If your left gluteal muscles have a strength difference compared to the right side, you may likely have a problem on the right shoulder blade and side of the neck.

Next, raise up your left leg, as shown in the photo.  You activate your gluteal muscles to raise your left leg up. At the same time, your physical therapist monitors your right shoulder blade muscles to see if they contract before you raise your left leg up.

Do your shoulder blade muscles fire out of order before your left gluteal muscles even get a chance to engage? If so,  your shoulder blade muscles are likely overused. Your shoulder blade muscles project into the neck and head and cause headaches when tight. Consequently, these overactive muscles will fire more readily and produce more headaches than they would if you could keep them silent.

How Could I Possibly Shut Down Overactive muscles? How Long Would This Take? 

Surprisingly, even if you have had this problem going on for years, you can shut down the abnormal muscle firing in a matter of weeks. You can even see a change during one physical therapy session.

Start by lying on your stomach as depicted in the photo. Put your left hand across your chest and place your left hand on your right shoulder blade. Next, raise up your left leg. Go gently. You may not need to raise your leg up as far as the woman in the photograph.

If you feel your right shoulder blade muscles contract before you even elevate your left leg several inches, you need to learn how to shut down the shoulder blade muscles. Your shoulder blade muscles are meant to contract, just not so rapidly.

People tell me how frustrated they are when they respond to the instruction “Raise your left leg” by contracting the right shoulder blade. They know they their muscles are not working in the sequence they are supposed to be.

How Do I Retrain My Hip Muscles to Fire with the Right Timing?

If you need to change your muscle firing pattern, here is how you do it. First, keep your left hand on that right shoulder blade. Then lift your left leg up only as far as you can do so without triggering the shoulder blade contraction.

You may be only able to contract your gluteal muscles without triggering the shoulder blade firing response. Start there. As you achieve success in the lesser contractions, you can slowly progress raising your leg off the mat. Finally, you will be able to raise your left leg like the woman in the photo without firing your shoulder blade first.

How Often Does This Problem Occur? 

I do not see this phenomenon every day. However, every month or two I find someone who has had a chronic headache without resolution despite seeing numerous practitioners.

Do you feel like you are someone who has “tried everything?” I submit that you probably have not tried this approach. If no one has ever looked at this problem as a source of your headaches, how do you know if you have the problem? The simple act of walking would re-trigger your abnormal muscle firing. And you would never know it.

In the cases I see, usually the dominant right shoulder blade fires first. Consequently, the opposite  non-dominant left leg gluteal  muscles test out weaker than the right gluteal muscles.

Get your firing pattern corrected in several physical therapy visits. Then check once or twice a month to make sure the abnormal patterns are not trying to creep back in. You owe it to yourself to seek out every avenue to get your headaches better!



-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer.

-Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.


2 thoughts on “Your Headache May Really Be a Pain in the Butt”

  1. Craig,
    Excellent article. It really piqued my interest, and I have been a PT for 38 years. Can’t wait to check out your book, and likely to recommend it to my ergonomic consult clients with persistent headache.


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