Brain Strain: Effectively Addressing Headaches at the Workplace

July 14, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015
Ergonomics is an important aspect of having a headache-free work environment. (Bill Schaefer/Getty Images)
Ergonomics is an important aspect of having a headache-free work environment. (Bill Schaefer/Getty Images)

Wellness has become part of big-business protocol, because numerous studies have shown that fitness, health, and mental well-being improve their employees work production and reduce sick days, ultimately saving the company a lot of money.
There are a number of physical issues that were prevalently known in the workforce and are addressed. Offices commonly set up the workstation ergonomically to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain. However, the National Headache Foundation (NHF) recently released a survey on headaches at the workplace and 93 percent of the respondents reported that their employers did not make information on treatment or prevention of work-related headaches available. Ninety-nine percent of these respondents did experience headaches while on the job, yet 66 percent of the respondents stated that they did not report their headaches to there supervisors, because they did not feel that their supervisors would be sympathetic. They also not want to come across as “needy or whiny.”

It is important for workplaces to become aware of this problem, because headaches have lead to missed workdays (half of the respondents reported missing anywhere from one to three days per month), reduced productivity, and the ability to concentrate, as well as interfering with their mood and behavior.

The National Headache Foundation (NHF) has sent out a number of tips to address prevention of work-related headaches that respondents attributed to on the job stress, fluorescent lighting, computer glare, and eyestrain:

One. Get help. Discuss the connection between your headaches and work with your healthcare provider. He or she can help you determine your treatment options.

Two. Track your headaches. Using a headache diary, track your headaches for three months. Download a free headache diary at and bring your results to your healthcare professional to review and determine whether your headaches are associated with workplace triggers.

Three. Eliminate florescent lighting. 

Four. Use a non-glare computer screen.

 Five. Use a loose telephone headset instead of a phone receiver.

Six. Take frequent breaks.

Seven. Utilize ergonomically designed work spaces.
According to a workplace controlled study done in Turin, Italy in May 2008, part of the staff in Turin's registry and tax offices were given a series of postural and relaxation exercises that were designed by the lead author Professor Franco Mongini of the Headache and Facial Pain Unit at the University of Turin.

In the group that was given the exercises to do throughout their day, the employees reported a 41 percent reduction in headache pain and a 54 percent reduction in neck and shoulder pain.

Perhaps listing a set of postural and relaxation tools can be quite helpful for employees suffering from on-the-job headaches.

Listed below is an excellent exercise found in "Breaking the Headache Cycle," a book by Novak Livingston:

Let go of constricted breathing. Start with a deep breath in through your nose, and exhale out through your mouth with a big sigh of relief —“Ahh.” Then continue focused breathing in and out through your nose, counting backward from four to one.
Release muscle tension. Sit or lie down in a comfortable place, and take a few minutes to tune in to the tension in your body. Breathe in and visualize bringing healing oxygen to the tense areas in your head, scalp, face, jaw, neck, shoulders, back, arms, and legs. Exhale fully and deeply, releasing pain and tension with each breath out.

Reframe negative thoughts. Stress and pain automatically skew the mind to think pessimistically, adding insult to injury. Shake off these thoughts once you recognize they are unproductive, and counter them with supportive, self-healing thoughts. Examples of positive thoughts: “I accept the fact that I have a headache, and other people understand this, too.” and “Right now I need to focus on taking care of myself, so I can get over this headache just as I have done before.”

Adapted from: Livingstone I, Novak D. Breaking the Headache Cycle. New York, NY; Henry Holt Inc. 2004