It’s a concept we discussed in relation to the "text neck" phenomenon: when your neck muscles aren’t up to the job of holding up your head, it can lead not just to neck pain, but also to headaches. Now we have additional support from a small, but enlightening study out of Denmark.
This study showed that people with chronic tension headaches often had weak neck muscles and an imbalance between different groups of neck muscles. Although the study authors recommend core training as a treatment, people with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) might need treatment for jaw joint problems in order to combat their tension headaches.
In this study, 60 adults with tension headaches were compared to 30 healthy adults. The tension headache sufferers had to have at least 8 headaches in the previous 30 days. Although migraine sufferers were not completely banned from the study, to focus on mostly tension headaches participants had to have no more than three migraines during that time period.
Compared to healthy controls, people with regular tension headaches had 26% weaker neck muscles. Not only that, but headache sufferers tended to have an imbalance in the strength of their neck muscles. The flexor muscles, which bend the head forward, were significantly stronger than the extensor muscles, which bend the head back.
The muscular imbalance creates a similar phenomenon to text neck, where the position of the head puts additional stress on the neck muscles in the back of the neck. Researchers even mention smartphones and tablets as playing an important role in creating this muscular imbalance.
To try to combat this muscle weakness, researchers suggested that people should try to strengthen their core muscles. By improving muscle strength in the torso, they say, people should experience benefits throughout the body, including in the neck.
It’s important to note that you should talk to a doctor before attempting any new workout plan.
If Core Training Doesn’t Work
The problem with advocating core training in this circumstance is that it won’t necessarily help everyone. For some people, the imbalance in neck muscles comes from a source that won’t be affected by core training. If you have TMJ, it can contribute to you developing muscle imbalance in the neck because the jaw muscles that work with the neck have themselves gotten out of balance, because the jaw joint they work with is itself out of balance.
Trying to build up torso and neck muscles in this situation is like trying to build a house on a crooked foundation. Even if you’re building level, the construction can still be crooked. To