Is sitting at a desk all day causing neck pain and/or headaches?

By Kennedy Lay


Introduction, background & context

What do you do for work? Do you sit down at a desk all day? How often do you move? Have you or are you experiencing neck pain and/or headaches?

If you have experienced headaches or neck pain in the past, this series is perfect for you and hopefully give you a bit of context to your personal experience with this recalcitrant condition.

It’s important to read this because neck pain & headache can and will:

  • Decrease quality of life
  • Decrease work productivity
  • Increase stress and have an impact on your personal & professional relationships

This blog series aims to provide a background for the different types of ‘headaches’, address some possible causes and what you can do to achieve:

  • A pain-free and ‘well’ lifestyle
  • Maximise your quality of life
  • Maximise productivity and quality of inter-personal relationships
  • Reduce stress


Prevalence & Types of headaches 

Headaches, migraines, dizziness, head throb, sore head, tension type headaches… – chances are, if you’ve have had any of these experiences, you are not alone. Up to 7 million people in Australia (36% for men and 42% for women) have suffered or are suffering from tension-type headaches, up to 3 million people (10-15% population) have suffered from migraine and the direct and indirect costs of migraine alone would be around $1 billion per annum (

We tend to throw around the terms migraine and headache interchangeably. Are there any difference between them and what types of other ‘headaches’ are there?

In simple terms, I have broken them down into 3 umbrella categories for you.

  1. Cervicogenic headaches (CGH) – Most common
  2. Migraine
  3. Tension-type headaches (TTH)



Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches (CGH) is a syndrome characterized by acute or chronic hemi-cranial (one side of the head) that is referred to the head from either bony structures or soft tissues of the neck (Biondi, 2005).

We often find patterns with CGH clients:

  • Localized to one side of the head
  • Restricted neck movements
  • Pain triggered by movement or sustained awkward postures
  • Same side neck, shoulder and/or arm pain


What can you do?

  • Your next posture is the best posture – change it up, sit to stand to sit desk
  • Stretching – moving your neck by looking up, down and rotating to the side a couple of times every hour
  • Strengthening

Fortunately, physiotherapy treatment such as joint mobilization, manipulation and exercise therapy has shown excellent efficacy and outcome with CGH (Racicki et. Al. 2013). These types of headache typically resolve around 2-3 months of successful treatment.



Migraines are a type of reversible neurological deficit with alternating one-sided head throbbing and/or pulsating sensation, can be accompanied with paranesthesia (numbness). It can last anywhere from 10mins – 72 hours.



  • Unique triggers such as smell, stress, food, light, physical activity and/or sound.
  • Possible psycho-social factor influences – stress, depression, anxiety, burnout, family issues etc.
  • Associated with sleep deprivation, skipping meals, weather changes and genetics.

As you can see, the underlying causes of migraines is so multi-factorial. Therefore, it is imperative to consider not only the physical aspect of a migraine sufferer, but the psychological and social aspect also.



Tension Type Headaches

Tension-type headaches are a primary form of headache (unlike Cervicogenic headache which are secondary to structural referral pain from neck) which stems from the central or peripheral nervous system (Bendtsen, 2000).



  • Affects both sides of the head
  • Tight/pressing – mild to moderate
  • NOT aggravated by routine physical activity
  • Duration: 30mins – 7 days



  • Stress
  • Exercise and lifestyle changes
  • Physiotherapy – Deep muscle training


With Tension-type headaches, an underlying cause of deep muscle impairment is often present. A study conducted in the Netherlands investigated the efficacy in physiotherapy deep muscle retraining; and found that the treatment has reduced headache frequency, intensity and duration (Ettekoven & Lucas, 2006).


Chin Tuck Exercise

This simple, making a double chin exercise can be performed easily from your desk, this aims to train the deeper stabilizing muscles in your upper neck, improving its endurance and decrease the chances of being fatigued!


If you liked this, you’re sick of neck pain and/or headaches and you want to live pain free and improve productivity and reduce stress, then send us a personal message or email. Here at Pinnacle Health Group, we have experienced Physiotherapists, Psychologists, Massage/Myotherapists, and Dietitians working together to help you reach your wellness goals.


Book online at

Special Offer – check-in at Pinnacle Health Group Docklands on Facebook and receive 15% off when you arrive for your physiotherapy appointment with Kennedy!





Bendtsen, L. (2000). Central sensitization in tension-type headache – possible pathophysiological mechanisms. Department of Neurology. 20(5):486-508. Retrieved from


Biondi, D. M. (2005). Cervicogenic Headache: A review of Diagnostic and Treatment Strategies. The Jounral of the American Osteopathic Association. 105(S16-22). Retrieved from


Ettekoven, H. V. & Lucas, C. (2006). Efficacy of Physiotherapy including a craniocervical training programme for Tension-Type headache; A randomized clinical trial. International headache society. 26(8):983-991. Retrieved from


Prevalence and cost of headache in Australia. (2018). Headache Australia. Retrieved from


Racocki, S., Gerwin, S., DiClaudio, S., Reinmann, S. & Donaldson, M. (2013). Conservative physical therapy management for the treatment of cervicogenic headache: a systematic review. Journal of manual & manipulative therapy. 21(2):113-124. Retrieved from


Recommended Posts