Headaches: What’s Body Mechanics Got to Do With It? Part 2


Headaches may be the end of the line for a spinal problem that migrates upwards from the lower spinal area. Look at the way Mateo in our photo is bending forwards. His lifting pattern may lead not only to back pain, but neck pain as well. The neck pain then can generate his headache.


Mateo bends over from the waist, but his neck is tilted upwards in relationship to his trunk. If he were to stand straight up again without moving his neck, you would see how far back his neck is tilted.

Your extreme neck tilt upwards may have absolutely no effect on your headache whatsoever. However, many people increase their headaches if they tilt their necks back too far. Dizziness increases in some people when they tilt their necks backwards.

Some people also aggravate their headaches and increase dizziness when they sit and reach forward into a lower kitchen cabinet. Their waist bends forward, and their neck automatically tilts upwards with respect to their trunk as the trunk moves downwards to reach the cabinet.


Forward neck bending may cause your headaches. Tilting your neck upwards may not be your problem at all! You benefit from finding your “directional preference,” which is the direction your body likes to be in so as not to provoke your pain.

You may have headaches, but many of my clients with headache pain also suffer from back or neck pain as well. Are you one of them? If you are, an exercise program of “directional preference” could help put you on the path to recovery.

The term “directional preference” comes from a treatment approach popularized by Robin McKenzie. The McKenzie Institute continues his work and trains people in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) to help clients find their directional preference.

Generally, MDT practitioners are either physical therapists or chiropractors. Find your directional preference and you are on the path to help not only your headache, but your back, neck and even extremity pain as well.


You very rarely will find that your directional preference is one of bending forward with your legs locked straight during lifting. Force is not distributed throughout your body, but instead builds up at vulnerable points in your spine.

Mateo’s lifts from a pivot point at the hip and low back. Mateo receives no help from the ankle, or knee joints. The force accumulates in the only place available, in his low back and hip. He also cannot keep his neck straight. Hence, excess strain is felt through the low back, hips, and neck.

Mateo’s back structures are loaded heavily when he lifts with his straight legs and rounded back. Mateo will not keep the load close to his chest as he comes up from the ground which further increases the pressure. Let us take a brief detour to talk about back pain.


Discs are the tissue between the bones of your spine that extend from the low back up to your neck. They act as shock transmitters to mitigate the daily stresses and strains we place on our spines all day long. If they fail, they can bulge and apply pressure to your spinal nerves and cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness.

Researchers inserted pressure transducers into people’s low back, or lumbar, discs. People performed various daily activities with good and poor body mechanics and the disc pressure was recorded.

Yes, there were people who volunteered to have a pressure transducer implanted into the discs in their low back. Would you like to volunteer?

Dr. Alf Nachemson was the first person to initiate these studies and his graphs of spinal disc pressures have been referred to for decades. You benefit from the volunteers who had these pressure transducers stuck into their discs. Look up the disc pressure graphs.

When you see what various loading positions do to your spine, it will change the way you move and lift during your daily life. Certain activities such as lifting and twisting at the same time are particularly hazardous.

We go through our lives moving around and not realizing the pressure that the body puts up with all day long. Until something goes wrong. You and your physical therapist need to identify what has gone wrong so that you stop putting your spine into a compromised position.


In this admittedly wide-ranging discussion of body mechanics, consider what your back’s directional preference is. If you have increased pain with sitting and feel better standing, it tells us that your individual directional preference is for doing exercises that arch your back. You need to stop the forward bending postures that Mateo is doing.

You may, on the other hand, have a condition that is aggravated if you walk too far or arch your back. Your directional preference relief would come from sitting or bringing your knees to your chest when lying down (if you do bring your knees to your chest for relief when you are lying down, see if you feel better when your neck is flat, not bent forward).


Your back strain can work itself up to the neck. However, poor body mechanics in your neck can also increase your back pain.

Here’s how. Bend your neck forward as you place your hand on your lower back muscles. When you bend your neck, do you feel the tissues of your back pop out into your hand? If you have oversensitive nervous tissue in your back, you may have initiated an inflammation reaction that will increase your back pain later.


Back and neck pain occurs when the sensitive client falls asleep in the recliner and the head drops forward toward the chest. The sensitive tissues are taut with far too much tension on them. When the person wakes up, they may feel as if their spine been hit by a ton of bricks. A scarf or soft neck collar prevents this head and neck drop.

Do you wonder why you have so much pain in the morning? Could it be because you sleep with your neck flexed forward? You may overload your sensitive spinal tissues by keeping them on full tension for eight hours a night. Just an idea to consider.


Now we return to the original topic of our blog, headaches. The neck also has directional preferences that stop it and your head from hurting. Let us sum up by reviewing two of the most common ones.

Firstly, you want to keep your neck in an erect, straight posture. Do not let your neck slump and tighten the headache generating tissue.

Secondly, normal neck rotation is key for so many people who have headaches. Clients generally leave their appointments with a decreased headache. If they return on a future appointment with a headache, I recheck their neck turning measurements. Generally, I find that the neck rotation numbers have dropped off considerably. Oftentimes they have not been checking their rotation often enough. Their necks have gradually stiffened up imperceptibly but enough to allow the headache to return.


I understand that it is extremely difficult to keep your body mechanics maintained properly all day long. Our minds get distracted by other things that seem more important than worrying about your posture. That is why just five second “mini-breaks” may be all that you need.

If you have back pain, you may need to frequently to make sure your back is in good postural alignment. Perhaps you need the aid of a back cushion.

Likewise, you need to do a checkup from the neck up frequently, say five times a day. Take that mini=break to re-establish proper posture. Can you turn your neck fully? If you feel your neck is not as loose as it was, briefly try to loosen it back up. Do not let your headache back in!

Set your watch or phone alarm to remind you to reset your posture. Use sticky tabs on your computer placed around the periphery of your computer screen to remind you to recheck the neck.

At the end of the day, body mechanics are a big part of your pain picture, both in your headache and other orthopedic pain problems!



-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.

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