Headaches along with lower back pain are one of the most common health complaints to result in time off work. The World Health Organisation estimates that 50% of the world’s adult population report suffering from headaches (having had a headache at least once in the last year), and 30% of which were migraines.1

Aside from migraines, there are literally hundreds of different headache classifications. But can there really be that many causes?

Recent research generated in Australia points to one common denominator in most types of headaches, including the all elusive migraine. They indicated towards problems caused by the cervical spine, and more specifically, the upper cervical spine.

Sensitisation of the upper cervical spine has been shown to cause headaches of various types, varying intensities and in various areas along the head and neck. This sensitisation can stem from sustained postures, often sitting in front of computers, repeated movements, stress and trauma both past and present can be the catalyst. This sensitivity can affect the muscles of the neck, the joints of the upper vertebrae or both. It is this combination that accounts for the variety of types and areas of the headaches.2

Is there anything you can do?

There are a few simple exercises that can be done to help alleviate and prevent the onset of mild headaches.

The first is to check and adjust your sitting posture while at work and make sure that your computer is set up at the correct height. Make sure that you are seated back into the chair and tuck your chin in slightly so that your ears are in line with your shoulders. This is the ideal working posture, additionally, you should take regular mini-breaks to stretch your neck and shoulders before resuming this position again.

Correct Seating Position:

The second management method is the retraction method. This is where you can gently push back on your chin so that your head moves back into line with the top of your spine. Make sure that your head is in a neutral position first, and that you are seated in a supported position. Then make sure that the pressure is going straight back as if you are pushing a drawer into a filing cabinet. You want to avoid any upward or downward pressure. Holding this position for 20 seconds every 2 minutes can significantly ease a headache if done correctly.

Retraction Method:

For the more intense, frequent, migraine type headaches you may need more manual work on your upper spine. A number of Habit Physiotherapists have been trained in the Watson Technique of treating headaches; this has been derived from the Australian headache research.

If this sounds like your own headache situation, then please contact your nearest Habit Clinic and enquire about our Headache Clinic and the Watson Technique.

Cindy Lagarde is Lead Physiotherapist for Habit Kapiti.


  1. The World Health Organisation. (2016). Headache Disorders. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs277/en/
  2. The Role of C1-3 Cervical Afferents in Primary Headache; Watson Headache Institute 2000-2016.