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Nine Ways Your Job Is Giving You Headache

That pounding in your head or worsening headache or migraine could be the result of your workplace. In fact, 113 million days of work are lost each year in the United States because of migraines alone. Concourse News brings you Nine ways your job might be causing you headache.

Most people with headaches or even migraines prefer to handle the problem themselves, says Elizabeth Loder, MD, chief of the division of headache and pain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “I know a lot of my patients with headaches have bosses who are sympathetic, and I have other patients who don’t want their bosses to know,” she says. “Our experience treating patients is that most of them want to stay at work and, if they have to leave, they want to get back as quickly as possible.”Nine Ways Your Job Is Giving You Headache

Read on to figure out whether your workplace could be causing your headaches and how you can take steps to avoid or better cope with the pain.


Before you even reach your desk, your morning commute to work can trigger a headache or migraine. This head pain could have several origins. For one, people with migraines are sensitive to motion and are more likely to get motion sickness. In fact, motion sickness is one of the hallmarks of migraine.
Commuting can also bring with it changes in light patterns, and people who get migraines are notoriously sensitive to light. “If you happen to be driving into the sun, it can be particularly bad,” notes Dr. Loder. Sound familiar? Talk to your boss or supervisor to find out if you can vary your hours, or try taking another route to and from work.

Bad Lighting

Light sensitivity may continue to be an issue once you reach your desk and be particularly difficult to deal with if you work in a cubicle, or any space where you can’t control the overhead lighting. “Venetian blinds that make light patterns on the wall are also a problem for some people,” Loder notes. If the lighting in your work area could be provoking a headache or migraine, talk to your supervisor about options for changing or adjusting the lighting source.


“Communicating with your boss, PowerPoint presentations, negotiations — these are all things that can add up to stress in the workplace and that can trigger a migraine,” says Teshamae Monteith, MD, assistant professor of neurology and director of the headache program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She urges people with headaches and migraines to see a headache specialist for proper evaluation and treatment. If you’re prone to headaches or migraines and have a big presentation or meeting coming up, build some relaxation activity into your day and take extra care of yourself.

Eye Strain

Sitting in front of a computer all day can lead to a headache from eye strain. Your eyes work harder to read a computer screen than a printed page, and glare compounds the problem. To find out if eye strain is causing your headaches, schedule an eye exam and ask your eye doctor if you’d benefit from special glasses for computer work.
Other things you can do: adjust your monitor so that you’re looking downward at the screen or put an anti-glare filter on the screen. In addition, dry eye can also play a role in head pain, so blink your eyes frequently to restore moisture, and try the “20-20” rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen for 20 seconds to allow your eyes to refocus.

Poor Body Mechanics

Your task should suit you, not the other way around. If you have to strain your body to do your work, your energy will be sapped, and you’ll feel tired — which can set the stage for a headache. Pay attention to both your office furniture and your position in it to avoid headache pain. Try these tips:
1. Choose an ergonomic chair that cushions your body and adjusts so that you can place your feet flat on the floor with your thighs parallel to the ground.

2. Use chair arms for arm support while you type. Don’t rest wrists on your keyboard.

3. To avoid neck strain and headaches, use a headset or earbuds if you’re often on the phone while typing.

4. Get up and stretch frequently. Its a good excuse to refill your water bottle or walk over to a co-worker’s cubicle instead of sending an e-mail.

Strong Odors

People who get migraines are not only sensitive to light and noise, but also to odors. Perfume, cigarette smoke, and cleaning solutions are the most commonly mentioned offenders. Strict no-smoking policies in the workplace have probably helped some, and you might try varying your hours to avoid times when the cleaning crew is at work. As for perfume, both cheap and expensive scents can trigger migraines, so try a diplomatic word to any co-worker who douses rather than dabs it on.


“Noise can be a problem for people who get migraines,” notes Dr. Monteith. “They are very sensitive to environmental stimuli; their brains seem to have problems filtering it all out.” If noise in the workplace is giving you a headache or triggering a migraine, possible solutions include wearing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. Consider talking to your boss about moving to a more quiet area, or whether it would be possible to get a noise-canceling machine or noise-absorption panels.

Lack of Exercise

Exercise is a stress reliever, so it follows that a lack of exercise may cause headaches. Although this has not been well-studied (there’s more research showing that exercise can bring on a headache, for instance), one study found that a lack of exercise, along with other risk factors, like obesity and smoking, was more likely to cause headaches. So if you’re stuck at your desk, be sure to get up, stretch your legs, and walk around a bit. That can help relieve stress and, in turn, lessen the likelihood of a headache.

Changes in Routine

“Generally, people who get migraines don’t adjust well to a change in routine,” says Loder. So if work demands force you to come in early or stay late, you may pay the price with a headache or a migraine. Triggers include getting hungry if you skip meals at the office, or a lack of sleep if you stay up late finishing a project. Shift work can also be a problem as well, she notes.
Some fixes to relieve head pain and overall discomfort include getting up to walk around or stretch, keeping an apple or nuts handy, and making sure you maintain the rest of your daily routine as much as possible during peak work periods.

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