Tension Headaches From Working on Computers, Beat It the Natural Way

There’s nothing technical in this post but it’s an important one nonetheless if you spend long hours in front of your computer. I wanted to share from personal experience on how poor computer work habits can lead to chronic tension headaches and how I managed beat it the natural way.

As a software author, I often spend long hours working in front of computers. Some poor work habits in my younger days resulted in me getting chronic tension headaches by the time I reached my 40’s. You know, the type that starts with tense muscles at the back of the shoulders followed by aches at the base of the neck. Then gradually moves up to form that throbbing pain at the back of the head that we loathe.

As a quick fix, I would just pop 2 paracetamol and get on with the job. These headaches started to cut short my work hours so I wanted to find a more permanent and natural cure for my headaches. After much research and trial and error, I did. I was seeing results in the first few days. After about 1-2 months of some small natural changes I got rid of the painkillers for good. Here’s what I did.

1. Correct Your Work Posture

Start by nipping it at the root of the problem. Poor posture is one of the main causes of chronic tension headaches. If you sit on the couch with the laptop on your lap and spend long hours this way then you have to make a change right away. Laptops force your body to adapt to a position that puts a strain on it. You may not feel it your younger days but it will take a toll in the long. Don’t get your body to adapt to your work environment. Get your work environment to adapt to you.

  • Either change to a desktop computer or get an external keyboard and mouse and a good 19-24 inch monitor and plug that to your laptop. If you must work on a laptop like when travelling, then keep the duration short with lots of breaks between so you can stretch.
  • Get a good qualify work chair that supports your back and keeps it upright. Adjust the height so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are at right angles. Your feet should not be dangling in the air.
  • Try to get a work desk that has a pull out tray for the keyboard and mouse. The best position for your keyboard and mouse should be just above your thighs and as close as possible to your body such that your elbows are just by your side and shoulders back. It’s important that your shoulders are not curled forward. Putting your keyboard and mouse at the top of the standard desk height forces your elbows to be extended forward and your shoulders curled forward. As they say in the army, shoulders back, chest out.
  • Ensure that your monitor is at the correct height. Ideally the top of the monitor screen should be at about your eye level or maybe around 1-2 inches higher. A monitor that is placed too low will cause your muscles at the back of your neck to be working overtime. Try to find the best height for your monitor such that you feel you head is just balanced on your shoulders.

2. Your 4 minute Workout

With your posture corrected, the next step is to stretch out the chest muscles and release the tension at the back of the shoulder with a simple but effective stretching workout.

Try this workout when you wake up in the morning and when you knock-off at the end of the work day.  Do it also when you start to feel your shoulders are tense and it may also prevent the headache from coming on.

Warm up:  Warm up your shoulders and neck by shrugging your shoulders and rotating your arms. The aim is to get the blood circulating before we stretch the muscles.

Stretching: Stand at a doorway. Place your palms on the vertical edge of the door with fingers pointing to the ceiling. Adjust the placement of your palms such that your upper arm is parallel to the floor.  Push forward such that you can feel your chest muscles stretched and the muscles at the back of your shoulders start to loosen up. Look straight ahead and slightly up, do not look down. Do not bounce, just apply constant pressure. When you feel your chest start to loosen, apply a bit more pressure again. Do this for about 3 minutes. The aim is to stretch the chest muscles so the muscles at the back of the shoulders are not in a constant state of tension.

I find that this is the single most effective exercise that gives immediate relief for tense shoulders from working on computers. Do it regularly with a correct work posture and I think you should see great results as well.

I am not a doctor but these tips have helped me beat chronic tension headaches and I hope it will benefit you too. This is obviously not intended to replace advice from a professional medical practitioner.