Migraine trigger series: weird head & neck positions

In late May I went to New York City (home of my alma mater, NYU) for a gigantic book conference.  I added in an extra day before and after the conference so I could visit friends if I was up to it.  As I get to know my migraine patterns better, I try to make little adjustments to my schedule and my life to help take care of myself.  Case in point: scheduling a flight that arrived more than a full day before the conference started, as air travel is a common trigger for me.  If I have a cushion of a day on either side of my work trip, I’m less likely to have a migraine on the first day of the conference when I want to bring my A game.

Miraculously, I had only two mild migraine episodes the entire ten days I was out of town (I’m composing this blog post on the flight home, so I’m looking around for some wood to knock on since the trip isn’t technically over yet!).

The last night of my trip, I had dinner with a friend I’ve had since the first week of college.  She and I met at a cafe in Brooklyn for dinner, and the hostess asked if we’d like to sit inside or outside on the screened-in patio.  In spite of the gorgeous weather, we chose to sit inside, where the space would accommodate my long legs and her pregnant belly a little more easily. My friend said, “This is probably better than the outside table anyway—remember how I get a headache my head is at an angle?”

Now that would be something interesting to write about for my migraine.com blog, I thought to myself.  I’d forgotten about J.’s fascinating trigger:  when she sits with her head at an odd angle (I believe anything other than a straight-ahead, even view fits in this category), she ends up with a headache.

That got me thinking about how I love to lie down and work on my bed, my left hand propping my head up.  I wonder sometimes if it’s just force of habit that makes me like this so much, because it’s no longer a comfortable position in any way, shape, or form.  Arthritis plus age plus the ease with which my aches and pains pop up mean several of the weird ways I used to comfortably contort my body are now off-limits.  That said, I will still sit with my neck at a weird angle sometimes, propped on my hand as I lie on my left side in bed, leaning awkwardly on the straight and unforgiving couch edge while I watch TV.

As time has gone on, I have realized that sitting like this not only makes my neck and body feel achy pretty quickly, it also can trigger a migraine.  Is it the angle my head is resting? Does the tension in my neck (which results in a stiff neck) trigger a migraine?  As J. briefly recapped her fascinating and seemingly atypical head-at-a-weird-angle trigger, I began to wonder if perhaps this isn’t that uncommon of a trigger after all.  It’s just such an odd one it may be hard to pin down.

How about you? Have you ever realized that sitting in an odd position or moving your neck in an atypical way has triggered a migraine? What sorts of positions are best and worst for you in terms of migraine prevention?

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Comments

View Comments (24)
  • Lauwah
    3 years ago

    I hope to hear from someone who gets a migraine with aura when their head is down as in reading a book or a phone. Doctors look stumped when I tell them this. I do have a lot of cervical degeneration in my neck and the bones have already used on their own. Anyone?? Laurie

  • caringmom
    5 years ago

    We have found that having my son’s top vertebra adjusted has been a big part of helping his migraines improve. My son also had PT, which didn’t help him. But now that his neck is in alignment, he is seeing a new PT, who uses a technique called counter strain. He also gets Active Release technique therapy, and both seem to be helping him a lot. It doesn’t seem like they would help, however, if his neck wasn’t in alignment. Some people may just need PT but for him the adjustment was critical. There is no cracking or twisting, just a push to realign his head and neck into position. It doesn’t hurt, but he cannot turn his head afterwards so the alignment holds. Everyone is different, but for him this has been life changing.

  • Gramajan
    5 years ago

    Well, I’m glad to see I’m not alone with “weird neck positions=migraines” area!! I have to travel with my concave pillow and I am just like most of the people writing on this post. If I have to look to the side or my neck is crooked more than 30 seconds…..there is a migraine brewing! It sounds impossible to someone who doesn’t get migraines but it is true. I tried PT for strengthing of my neck but, I got a migraine after doing 10 sets of 3 different exercises. The PT gal would not believe me! She said” you don’t mean a REAL migraine” I told her I had many migraines and could tell the difference between a regular HA and a migraine!! I talked to my Dr about and he told me to stop PT at once!! I also have Fibro, CFIDS AND CHRONIC PAIN along with Chronic Migraines. I’m trying to hold on for another 10 years because my Dr says he has never treated a pt in there 70s with migraines!!! I am hoping that is true for me. All the women in my family outgrew their migraines when they went through menopause but I had a total hysterectomy at 36 and that did not change anything for me. One thing I learned from PT was to place my iPad or paper on a pillow to get it off your lap so your neck is not bent down. That has been helpful.
    On a side note I am wearing Eyegraine glasses. I have been using them for about 6 months.i was having chronic migraines. The first month I had them I went from 6/week down to 2-3/week!! Of course I was very please. Since then I have had varying results and have had several lens changes during that 6 month time period. I also receive Botox injections every 3 months. So, when everything is working together I am pleased with the results of the glasses. The company has an 80% success rate, which is pretty good when you have chronic migraines and you will do almost anything for relief. They are spendy at $4,000 for 18 months of service, but I was at the end of my rope!! To check this out you can go to eyeBrainMedical.com. They are very helpful and easy to work with. I have yet another trigger that glasses will not help and that is weather related migraines. A couple weeks ago I went in to the clinic for an injection in the afternoon and I was the 5th pt in from just one of the Drs in the clinic. Summer storms in the Dakotas are terrible!!!
    Well I have been sitting in this position too long……better get up and move around, but not outside it is very humid out there!!!

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    I wish they would be right about that after 70 no migraines since that is January 2015 for me. Somehow I don’t quite believe it but time will tell. And mine only got worse after menopause.

  • peeperview
    5 years ago

    Dear Caringmom, what is a water pillow? I, too, have discovered many of my migraines are triggered by neck issues. It’s a challenge figuring out the numerous positions that are taboo, but if the info can cut down on the number of attacks, which it has, then it’s well worth it! For me looking up is the worst. I also relate with if the migraine has been triggered from the neck it is very hard to treat. Sometimes the trigeminal nerve gets involved (excruciating), and sometimes the occipital nerve. I find these very hard to deal with and would love some feedback!!☆ I’m so grateful to have found Migraine.com! It really helps to know I’m not alone.

  • caringmom
    5 years ago

    The pillow is called Chiroflow. I’m not sure how you would know how much to fill it. The ao chiro fills it for us, watches my son try it, and sees if it’s the right level of water. I hope this helps you and that you start to feel better soon! We found that my son needs several different treatments, but anything that lessens the pain helps. Getting his neck adjusted helped tremendously with weather triggered migraines, and overall less frequent migraines.

  • caringmom
    5 years ago

    I will try to find out the exact name of the pillow for you. It’s just a pillow with a big pocket that you can fill with water so that you can adjust the exact size of the pillow.
    My son sees an ao chiro, who adjusted his top vertebra. Some people get immediate relief from the adjustment, but he didn’t. After a few weeks though, he had a period of less frequent and less intense migraines. His neck had to be readjusted several times, so he had a lot of setbacks. But he also had vision therapy (he is post concussive) and that seemed to help his posture so that his neck stayed in alignment better.
    He still struggles with migraines, but when his neck is out of alignment and a storm is approaching, he will have a 3 day migraine that doesn’t really respond to medication. The pillow keeps his neck in alignment at night, and he also has a neck brace that he can wear when he sits at the computer too long.

  • Anita
    5 years ago

    I can relate to many of the Comments. I have to be very careful not to look down, look up, sideways … Sitting in a meeting and looking left to right at the other speakers will do it every time. I’ve tried physical therapy for my neck issues, but it triggers a severe migraine every time. Recently I got a standing desk at work, and standing all day long while I work seems to have helped. This makes me think my neck is related to upper back scoliosis and chronic pain there. When I get a migraine from neck movement, it’s always a very bad one.

  • Lauwah
    5 years ago

    When I look down (reading a book or using iPad) for longer than a few minutes I will undoubtedly get an aura migraine. I have cervical degenerative disk disease and my disks have fused on their own I’ve been told recently.

    Laurie

  • caringmom
    5 years ago

    I am always reminding my son to sit up straight so that his neck position doesn’t bring on a migraine. He’s had his C1 adjusted, and that has really helped to lessen migraines that are triggered by weather changes. The ao chiro gave him a water pillow. He fills it with the exact amount of water so that his head is supported and his neck stays in line. Sitting at the computer for long periods of time always puts strain on his neck muscles though. He gets medical massages to help with that.

  • SamanthaAnn
    5 years ago

    I’ve noticed that laying on my stomach while watching TV or looking up at something can trigger a very severe migraine. It’s not every time, but frequent enough to make me think twice about laying that way. Also, reading or watching TV with my chin angled down and my eyes angled up creates a tension in my neck that I have learned to take as a warning sign.

  • Adamsgran726
    5 years ago

    My doctors and I know that my neck position can bring on a migraine. I’ve had degenerative discs for about 14 years. In 2002, I had surgery to correct the problem between discs 3&4 and 4&5. Now have the same condition between 2&3 and 5&6. I don’t think that surgery is an option now. I take Celebrex to help during the day and a muscle relaxer at night. They have helped, but if I keep my head turned in one direction (esp. to the left)for too long, I definitely get a migraine.

  • Debbie Lamb
    5 years ago

    My neck is so sensitive to position and migraines that when I rearranged my den and tried to watch tv just the slightest difference made a huge impact. There was no where I could sit without getting a migraine. The room had to go back the way it was before.

    There are several neck positions that will trigger a migraine. If the seat at the movie theater is to upright or if if I have to look to the side for any length of time. I could list many!

    I have an extremely long neck and have often wondered if that had anything to do with it…doesn’t sound like it.

  • Crystalrz4
    5 years ago

    As a matter of fact, Yes! I have to be VERY careful of the position of my neck and head at all times. If I turn too quickly to look at something, of just turn my head from side to side, I can hear all the cracks and pops as my neck turns. This does indeed bring on a significant migraine. So does looking up and down. The only way around this is to move very slowly at first until my head and neck turn smoothly.

    I also can not sleep with a pillow. That will also bring on a migraine. I sleep very carefully, with my head resting gingerly on my arm. Sometimes, during the night or in the morning, I will wake up with my head twisted in a weird position, and that will be the and of that day. My migraine will hit a “10,” and the type of migraine I get is along the lines of a severe concussion. I will have extreme nausea/vomiting, colds sweats and shakes, loss of balance, severe dizziness, vertigo, and aphasia.

    This is something I have to be very conscious of all the time, without fail.

  • jen
    5 years ago

    This is exactly me!

  • Crystalrz4
    5 years ago

    Katie, Thanks. Yes, I have without much success. I’ve also tried acupuncture, acupressure-which does help a bit, massage, cold and heat packs(seems the heat helps me more, the cold makes it worse). I have arthritis in the vertebrae in my neck, one that is too small and misshapen, and degenerative discs syndrome. I also have this only much worse in my mid and low back which I was hospitalized for back in the ’80’s. So I do have to be careful with my back too, but it’s my neck that seems to effect my migraines the most when it comes to my spine.
    Thanks for the suggestion, though! ; – }

    ]=

  • BellaRobina
    5 years ago

    Wow, I’m not alone…thanks for sharing.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Crystal,
    Have you ever tried physical therapy for your neck issues? It could be a way to help strengthen your neck muscles. Just a suggestion since your neck problems seem to be very severe.
    -Katie

  • dmae
    5 years ago

    Whenever I go to the library or a book store, I cannot tilt my head to look at the titles as that posture is a surefire trigger. Instead, I stare at them standing straight until my eyes adjust to reading sideways. I wish the spines on books were set horizontal instead of vertical on the shelves.

  • Sherlyn
    5 years ago

    I have to be careful at night,if I sleep wrong and wake up in the middle of the night with a stiff neck … I can’t put my head on the pillow. It’s like I can’t let my head touch anything or it will trigger a migraine. I can’t have my c-pap on, or even my eye mask. I have to prop my self up, but try not to make the stiff neck worse. It’s a on going night game or nap game that goes on and on.

  • Ginny
    5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. I thought i was going crazy. I tried so many different pillows but wind up sleeping sitting up when the headache wakes me up.

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    I’ve had to learn to sit differently and not too long at a time at my computer so that the strain of the neck position doesn’t bring on a migraine.

  • zippy36
    5 years ago

    There is a chair at work that gives me a migraine. It I’d an office chair. I noticed that everytime I worked at that post and sat in that chair I got a migraine. The chair is too big for me so my neck would get tense from sitting in that awkward position

  • Doug
    5 years ago

    Were your migraines better than usual on the trip? I am curious because for episodic migraine sufferers, travel tends to trigger/worsen migraines. That was the case for me. However, since my migraines became chronic, I seem to have done better when traveling than I have when at home.

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