“There’s not one person with chronic headaches who wouldn’t benefit from stretching exercises like Pilates,” says headache specialist Traci Purath, MD, founder of Purath Headache & Neurology in Greenfield, Wisconsin. Many headache sufferers scrunch their shoulders or hold their necks bent, she explains, and this posture shortens the muscles, disrupts body alignment and contributes to headache pain. But the muscle-lengthening exercises involved in Pilates correct these issues, banishing pain. Indeed, one study found that a Pilates program yielded a 58 percent decrease in pain after 10 weeks.
To get started, follow Maureen Lake’s lead and complete these three mat-based exercises, aimed at improving posture, three or four times per week.
This extension opens up the chest to combat slouching and strengthens the abs, shoulders and back to promote good posture. To do: Lie facedown on the floor. Bring your hands under your shoulders. Inhale and press your hands and forearms into the mat to raise your upper body, keeping your hips on the mat. Exhale and slowly lower back down. Repeat five times.
This exercise activates the muscles in the shoulders and upper back to correct rounded shoulders and improve the alignment of the neck. To do: Holding small weights, kneel upright on a mat with your knees hip-width apart and inhale. Exhale and press your hands back, keeping your shoulders down, as far as you can without arching your back. Hold for a moment, then return to start. Repeat five times.
Spine Stretch Forward
This stretch loosens and lengthens the muscles in the lower back and hamstrings to eliminate the tightness that disrupts the body’s natural alignment. To do: Sit tall with your legs extended, feet hip-width apart. Inhale and extend your arms at shoulder height. Exhale and roll your spine into a C-curve, keeping your belly pulled in. Hold for a moment, then roll back up. Repeat five times.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.