The dreaded headache. Let's face it: We've all fallen victim to this pain. While there are different types of headaches, let's focus on headaches that occur from the muscles and joints of the upper neck. This area of the body can become too tight, putting pressure on the nerves and tissues at the top of the spine. Help is here! Gentle stretching can help alleviate tension headaches. If you're prone to regular headaches, try performing this simple routine first thing in the morning and before bedtime. It can also be done during the day if you feel a headache coming on or stress building up. It's a great way to relieve tension and get on with your day.
How to Do This Routine
Perform each stretch for two minutes. Take rests as needed, especially if you're suffering with a headache. You can do this routine every day -- whether you have a headache or not -- to help stop headaches before they start. It can also be used on flights (if you have a mini foam roller with you) or when you find yourself sitting at your desk for long periods of time.
1. Foam Rolling the Upper Back
Foam rolling is the ideal way to begin any stretching routine. It promotes blood flow to the area, warming up the muscles and providing relief from the built-up tension. But be aware of your neck. If you feel any pain there, add support by interlacing your fingers and resting your head in your hands. HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Place the foam roller underneath your middle to upper back. Cross your arms in front of you and raise your hips off the floor. Roll up and down for 60 seconds. Then wrap your arms around you and roll side to side for another 60 seconds.
2. Foam Rolling the Lower Back
The natural progression once you feel some relief in the upper back and neck is to take it lower. The pressure of your body weight will force the muscles to relax. But you can also simply relax on the roller if rolling is too painful. HOW TO DO IT: With the foam roller underneath your lower back, keep your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Your shoulders and head should be off the ground. Cross your arms in front of you and raise your hips. Once your glutes are off the ground and you feel a tight area, you're on the right spot. Roll up and down either side of the lower spine.
Related: The DOs and DON'Ts of Foam Rolling
3. Head and Neck Stretch
Take your time with this stretch so you can relax into it. If you're already suffering from a headache, you'll find this relaxing and pleasant. Be gentle with yourself, and don't pull on the side of your head. The pressure should just be the weight of your hand. HOW TO DO IT: Sit down and take the right hand and place it beside you with the palm down. Your left hand reaches over the top of the head, across the ear and gently stretches the head and neck to the left side. Allow your jaw to relax, and breathe rhythmically to get a deeper stretch. Close your eyes. Stretch for 60 seconds, taking small breaks, and then switch sides.
4. Shoulder and Upper-Back Stretch
Even though you may not feel like your shoulders directly affect your headache, they're connected to the muscles that are under tension. Keep in mind: The stretch-and-release component is vital to getting the maximum benefit from this stretch. HOW TO DO IT: Hold the right arm straight out in front of the body. Wrap the left hand around the right elbow. Pull the right arm across the front of the body until you feel a stretch in the side of the shoulder. Keeping your arm straight, press your left hand into the upper part of your right arm, count to five and relax. Continue for 60 seconds, and then switch arms.
5. Side Body Stretch
Move further down the body and take out some tension from the ribs and back and side muscles. This stretch offers you an opportunity to open the ribs by stretching the intercostal muscles (the muscles that are in between the ribs). It can relieve any tension that's built up from clenched fists or bad posture sitting at the desk or on a plane for a long time. HOW TO DO IT: Standing tall, raise one arm straight above your head, palm facing inward. Reach up and over to the opposite side. Keep the arm straight and reach. Your left arm can hang by your left side. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Continue for 60 seconds before switching arms.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you get frequent headaches? Have you figured out the cause? Do you sit at a computer for hours on end during the workday? Do you ever take a stretch break? Do you think you will now? Try this stretching routine the next time you feel a headache coming on (or as a preventative measure), and then tell us what you think in the comments below!