How Posture and Sedentary Behavior May Impact Migraine

Poor posture and long periods of inactivity can contribute to an increase in migraine frequency

Whether it’s for work or school, many of us feel tied to our computer screens and desks. Long periods of sitting and increased time using technology can have negative impacts on posture, neck pain, and headaches, including migraine.

We asked Ali Ladak, PT, DPT, and Christina Pettet PT, DPT, who are both physical therapists at Penn Therapy & Fitness University City and specialize in headache, for tips on how to improve your posture and assist with management of migraine.

6 Tips to Improve your Posture

1.   Focus on your seated posture

Whether you’re working from an office or your bedroom, good posture is important. It’s especially important for people with migraine because research shows they have more neck dysfunction than the general population, says Dr. Ladak.

For the best seated posture, sit with your head and neck upright in a neutral position. Rest your feet flat on the floor (or supported by foot rest) and avoid sitting on your feet or crossing your legs. Keep your arms and elbows close to your body, use an arm rest for support and keep your wrists in a neutral position. Sit with your hips fully back in your chair and with your back supported. Try placing a small rolled towel behind your lower back to decrease the space between the chair and your back.

2.   Try a recovery pose

One way to reduce tension and physical stress when you feel a headache coming on is to try a recovery pose. To do a recovery pose, lie on your back with your knees bent and gently clasp your hands together behind your head and neck. Allow your elbows to relax toward the floor until there is a slight, comfortable stretching sensation. Focus on your breathing and relax; this should not feel painful. Hold for 1-2 minutes (as long as it is comfortable), lifting elbows for a break as needed. Repeat. This should not be irritating or heighten your headache. Stop if that occurs.

These gentle strategies can reduce the intensity and duration of migraine attacks or even stop them from occurring, says Dr. Ladak.

3.   Have a dedicated work space

Virtual learning or working from home allows you to create a personalized workstation to suit your needs. Rather than tuning into virtual meetings from the comfort of your bed or couch, consider a more traditional set up with a table or desk and a chair. Position your laptop or monitor at or slightly below eye level. When using books or smaller electronic devices, bring the book or device to eye level. Consider using support devices like cases or stands when possible. Make sure your frequently used items are within an easy reach. “Incorporating these clinical recommendations into your work space can have a positive effect on headaches by improving posture and reducing neck pain,” says Dr. Pettet.

4.   Take short breaks throughout the day

Schedule timed breaks throughout the day. During these breaks, you can work on stretching exercises to help with proper posture, do a 10-minute walk around your neighborhood, or take a full lunch hour to be away from your desk. Even just standing up for a bit can help. Not only will breaks help your neck and spine, they’ll help you return to your school or workday feeling refreshed and energized.

5.   Increase activity to make up for more time sitting

Exercise can promote improved posture by strengthening your core and back muscles and reducing tension. Being active can also relieve stress and improve sleep. Whenever starting new exercises, talk to your doctor and start slow, gradually incorporating and increasing your exercises. Meditation, yoga and aerobic exercise are excellent options. Adding these to your regular routine can help manage your migraine disease. There are multiple benefits of physical activity for migraine management, says Dr. Pettet. Physical activity can reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of migraine attacks.

6.   Get a good night’s sleep

Posture practice to deal with migraine isn’t limited to the work or school day. Set yourself up for a day of success by focusing on your sleep. Consider sleeping on your side and limit the amount of time spent sleeping on your stomach, as it puts added pressure on the spine. Use pillows to support your head and neck for added comfort. Ultimately, your sleeping posture should support a neutral spine position including the head, neck, upper, and low back. 

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library or Pediatric Migraine Content Hub. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.