fbpx

THE MOST COMMON HEADACHE IN GAMING | THE CERVICOGENIC HEADACHE

If you made it from the complete gaming headache guide page, you are dealing with the cervicogenic headache. If you’ve just stumbled upon this page – welcome and get ready to learn about why this type of headache is the most common gamers deal with. In my experience for gamers who sit for long periods of time often with poor posture tend to develop this type of headache.

Why is this the most common? Because the cervicogenic headache develops primarily due to prolonged positions and stress on the tissue/joints in the neck. And we are quite familiar with prolonged positions, especially when we are grinding competitive Fortnite, Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota, CS:GO, etc.

Let’s learn a little more about the headache then get to the 3 easy steps you need to take to address these headaches

WHAT CAUSES THIS GAMING HEADACHE & WHAT WILL YOU FEEL? | GAMING HEADACHES

Cervicogenic means originating from the neck. This headache is caused by excessive stress on the first three joints in your neck. If these joints undergo enough stress they can put pressure on specific nerves which supply sensation and control to different parts of your head and the surrounding muscles. The pressure on the nerve leads to the sensation you feel as a headache.

For those who are a little more visual, check out this picture. I explain with a little more science on how this happens.

A: Source of the Pain – Joints & Nerves Irritated causing the headache sensation
B: This position will lead to more compression in the joints mentioned above which overtime will begin irritating them. Inflammation and swelling may occur from the over compression since the tissue can only handle so much stress over time. This eventually places pressure on the nerve I mentioned

Ok so that is the source of the pain, but what is the actual cause? There are a few causes but I will begin with the most important one

  1. Our posture & environment. How we sit influences how much stress is placed on the joints in our neck over time. Poor posture will increase the likelihood our joints will become irritated and eventually cause the headache. In addition to posture we do want to consider lighting, specifically blue light. I’m sure many of us have been told how blue light can impact our eyes negatively. The light emitted from our monitors can absolutely contribute to our headaches but the main cause is our posture causing the increased stress at the joints
  2. Mobility of the muscles and joints at our neck. The more stiff or tight the muscles are surrounding our neck, the more compressive stress develops. This leads to stiffness in our joints which reduces its ability to tolerate repeated stress.
  3. Strength and coordination of muscles in the neck. A group of muscles deep in our neck are important in ensuring can handle long periods of gaming without stress in our joints.

Don’t worry we will be going through what to do about these causes in the next section but first…

What are you going to feel?

Location of Pain or HA Symptoms for the Common Gaming HA

With this type of headache – you might feel the following

  1. Pain or headache symptoms in the areas shown, more severe often around the eye however it may differ per person
  2. Neck stiffness
  3. Worsening headache with neck movement or posture
  4. Increased sensitivity or pain points in the neck muscles (see “X” areas on the picture)

And while the majority of this type of headache is only felt on one side, there have been cases showing the presence of symptoms on both sides. We should now be more and more confident you are dealing with this type of headache which means the next step is to start going over how we can deal with this headache!

STEP BY STEP APPROACH FOR HEADACHES IN GAMING (and one bonus)

Let us finally get into what you need to do in order to relieve this headache of yours. Here is 1HPs step by step approach so you can get back to gaming without that pain in your head. These steps hopefully to  no surprise address the CAUSES we discussed above which to be quick are again our environment (posture, ergonomics, lighting),  mobility (muscles & joints of the neck) and strength/coordination of the muscles in our neck. So step one is then to…

Assess your Environment: Posture Ergonomics and Lighting to relieve headaches in gaming

I always say esports or gaming health begins with optimizing our environment. For us that means posture and ergonomics. Yep it continues to come back to this same issue. While I have created a full guide on this about what you guys need to know about your posture and ergonomics – I want to give you only what you need to know right here in this article

Posture with Gaming Headaches

The posture we need to understand with headaches is primarily associated with our upper body and how we position it. Let me demonstrate with this picture of what typically happens after prolonged periods of computer use. We’ve all seen it before… the head beginning to move forward from its neutral position which places extra stress on the muscles at our shoulder and behind our neck. The muscles at the shoulder have to contract and tighten to maintain the control of the head (you can think of them as holding up the weight of the head against gravity). This irritates the joints deep in the neck which can in turn irritate nerves coursing along those joints leading to the your headache symptoms. So what do we have to do to address this?

We assume this “neutral” posture as shown to the left! To do that all you have to do is remember three things

  1. Chest up – imagine a string is attached to the center of your chest and it is pulling you up and out. Do not overarch your lower back and have the movement only come from your mid-back
  2. Chin Tucked – Make a slight double chin, almost imagining as if your head is moving directly backwards to be stacked nicely over your shoulders instead of in front of your shoulders
  3. Shoulders Back – Instead of what is most commonly recommended “bringing your shoulder blades closer together” I want you to think of tilting your shoulders back as shown. The front of your shoulder will move back while the tip or angle of the shoulder blade comes forward into the back of your rib cage. It is okay if your shoulder blades move slightly closer together during this movement but it is not the emphasis of the movement
 

Respective weight placed onto your neck joints and muscles as you bend your head forward (important for mobile gamers)

While it is definitely helpful to know what to do in order to have better posture, the exercises shown in the following sections will help you address stiffness, weakness and your ability to control the muscles around the head to maintain this neutral position

STEP 1: Neutral Positioning of the neck: Chest up, Chin Tucked, Shoulders Back

Ergonomics with Gaming headaches

Our setup should allow us to maintain this neutral posture and for us that is often modifying the position of our monitor and chair. Those are the two main topics we will be discussing but if you want to learn more – check out the full guide of gaming ergonomics here.

Gaming Monitor Position for Gaming Headaches

The position of our monitor can influence our neck position to accommodate clear vision of the center of the screen or what we want to focus on. It can also influence how much our eyes become strained which we will discuss in the next main section about lighting and gaming headaches. So here is what you guys need to know to optimize your monitor position

  1. Distance: Keep the monitor 1 arms distance away +/- the distance of your hand away from your head when sitting in the correct posture shown above. Too close and our eyes can fatigue more quickly as they have to look closer together for certain objects at the center (convergence for the nerds who are interested)
  2. Height: Your eye line should meet the top 1/4th of the monitor or slightly above so your eyes are slightly looking down at the center of the monitor. This ensures your eyes do not get fatigued as easily.

Optimize your monitor position for your eyes, make sure your chair is adjustable for your own body

 

Gaming Chair Position for Gaming Headaches

What about our gaming chair position? Basically it should allow the gaming monitor position to be met. If we sit too low and end up having to “look up” into the monitor that affects our neck position and how well our eyes work. The back of the chair should also not be reclined > 120 degrees to allow for your to lean back if necessary. Most of us sit away from the back of the chair anyways during gaming but we should be sure not to lean too far forward (this is more a posture thing but can be influenced by our chairs). If you happen to have a lumbar support – make sure it is not too low (include picture) to push you into this bent forward position

STEP 2: Adjust your monitor and gaming chair to the right distance and height to allow yourself to maintain the neutral posture mentioned above

Lighting with Gaming Headaches

Lighting is an important consideration we have to make in order to prevent the occurrence of headaches. When I speak about lighting I mean both the environmental lighting and the BLUE LIGHT associated with monitors and phones.

We’ll start with what everyone always talks about – blue light. Blue light isn’t always bad as it is present everywhere and has a function in boosting alertness, helping memory, etc. but it is always about the DOSAGE and WHEN during your day you are being exposed to the light. We often stare at screens for long periods of time which means a whole lot of blue light leading to eye strain from reduction of contrast. This leads to dry eyes, fatigue, etc and due to some nerve connections from the eye to the brain can CONTRIBUTE to headache symptoms.

So it is important for us to do a couple of things to address blue light exposure from all of the screens we use on a daily basis. My main recommendations for eye health with blue light are to

  1. Take enough breaks to ensure your eyes are given some rest from the repeated exposure of blue light. So take that walk or do some of things we suggest during your gaming break
  2. Use some filters – There are programs like f.lux which change the hue of your screen to decrease the amount of blue light given off from the screen. It can either be an app or a physical filter you can purchase to place on the screen. Some monitors now even offer blue light reduction “eye care models” like this one shown on amazon
  3. Computer glasses – Yellow-tinted lenses that block the blue light and again can help with eye strain. One of my favorite ones are the computer glasses offered from Gunnar 

So what about your environmental lighting? Well we should have some nice back lighting to ensure we are NOT in a room with only the blue light. While it does not directly have  negative impact on your eye it often causes you to blink less because of the contrast leading to increased dryness and eye fatigue. So make sure you keep on the lights around you.

STEP 3: Pay attention to the your lighting – both in your room and the blue light from your screens. Get some new eye swag or take enough breaks to let your eyes rest! Or you can even do some eye relaxing exercises

KEEP YOUR NECK MOVING | EXERCISES AND STRETCHES FOR GAMING HEADACHES

Alright we’ve worked on our environment, now we need to ensure we keep the muscles and joints around our neck move well and have enough strength to manage the prolonged periods of gaming.  As I mentioned above stiffness occurs as a result of prolonged positioning with poor posture which can cause irritation of the neck joints and nerves leading to headaches. We need to start by addressing how well the muscles and joints around our neck move then develop the muscles surrounding the midback and neck to ensure you are able to maintain prolonged sitting positions without overstressing your body and causing headaches!

The table below is split into three stretches and three activation/strengthening exercises. Start with the stretches then perform the strengthening exercises.

Stretching and Neck Mobility

Postural Control and Deep Neck Strength

Upper Trapezius Stretch

Peter Pan with Chin Tuck

Neck Towel Mobilization

Quadruped+ Chin Tuck with Rotation

Mid Back Extension with Cervical Extension

Wall Posture with DNF Focus

STEP 4: Perform mobility and posture/deep neck strengthening exercises to ensure the neck joints and nerves to not become irritated to cause headaches!

STRESS FREE TO BE HEADACHE FREE | MENTAL HEALTH AND ITS ROLE IN GAMING HEADACHES

Another potential cause of headaches can also be… STRESS. As I have written before (linkout) mental health and wellness is important for our overall health and when we are unable to deal well with stress – it can also be a cause of headaches. That means during midterm/final season… when we have a lot of work to do, etc. basically any situation which we perceive as stressful – it can be a cause of headaches – especially the tension-type or migraine category of headaches.

So while it is not entirely my expertise – I wanted to give you guys some small tips you guys can utilize to deal with stress.

  1. Keep your life simple – instead of continuously trying to multi-task and attempting to complete millions of activities a day – leave some things out. Ask yourself what is REALLY important and needs to be done. What can wait? What do you not really have to do? It is always OK to say no.
  2. Exercise Regularly – What more can I say about this – exercise is proven to be helpful both our mind and body. It can also be a great way to relieve stress
  3. Good Diet – What you eat can truly influence your behavior and what many people do not realize is nutrients in food have a role in a significant amount of our body’s function. Foods are DRUGS. Just as specific drugs have specific actions on certain parts of our physiology, so does food and the larger systems managing our physical and mental health.
  4. Proper Sleep – Lack of sleep interferes with our ability to deal with stress and can also cause an elevation of stress hormones (adrenaline/cortisol)
  5. Meditate – Understand your own thought patterns and gain a better control of stress through breathing
  6. Adjusting your attitude – How we think can influence various aspects of our health. Negative thought patterns often lead to bad habits and more focus on stressful situations. If we put a positive spin on negative thoughts, it can help us steadily work through stressful situations.

And…. so much more. I love this ted talk on how to deal with stress with humor and having a better understanding our own thoughts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZMJdhe4xhQ

BONUS STEP: Treat your mind right, learn how to deal with stress with healthy habits

WRAPPING IT UP – CERVICOGENIC HEADACHE: THE GAMERS HEADACHE

Wow that was alot to go over. Let’s wrap this all up for you guys. If you guys made it here it was because you are likely dealing with this type of headache. The source of the headache is the joints and nerves of the neck. The cause are things like your environment (posture, ergonomics, lighting), neck mobility and postural muscle endurance/control. To help with this headache follow the steps we talked about!

STEP 1: Neutral Positioning of the neck: Chest up, Chin Tucked, Shoulders Back

STEP 2: Adjust your monitor and gaming chair to the right distance and height to allow yourself to maintain the neutral posture mentioned above

STEP 3: Pay attention to the your lighting – both in your room and the blue light from your screens. Get some new eye swag or take enough breaks to let your eyes rest! Or you can even do some eye relaxing exercises (linkout)

STEP 4: Perform mobility and posture/deep neck strengthening exercises to ensure the neck joints and nerves to not become irritated to cause headaches!

BONUS STEP: Treat your mind right, learn how to deal with stress with healthy habits

Just some other last thoughts – things like lack of sleep and poor nutrition in addition to other poor health habits can lead to these types of headaches as well so really think holistically in how you can approach your headaches. 

Hope you guys enjoyed this post! Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list and youtube page for more content like this and thank you so much for being a patron of 1HP!

Share

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Questions, comments, thoughts? let us know below!

1 Comment
  • Sebastien Gonzalez
    Posted at 00:58h, 10 April

    Awesome content, and this really helped me a lot. Thank you Matt and 1hp 🙏

Post A Comment