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The impact of headaches    Mar 06, 2019

The impact of headaches
Mar 06, 2019


Mevrouw Sarah MINGELS



Headaches are extremely common and nearly everyone has one occasionally. Yet when they occur on a regular basis, they are a symptom of a headache disorder. The levels of disability a primary headache disorder, such as migraines or tension-type headaches, can cause are often underestimated. Today we talk to Ph.D. researcher Sarah Mingels who investigates how our posture when we sit might influence headaches.


“Some pain you can distance yourself from, but a headache sits right where you live.” – Mark Lawrence.

Headache disorders are one of the most common disorders of the nervous systems. They can cause substantial personal suffering and impair one's quality of life, as not only the repeated attacks but also the constant fear of the next one can have a disabling effect. On a global scale, they are ranked as the third highest cause of years lost due to disability. Yet despite all of this, many people, health care professionals included, tend to perceive it as a trivial complaint.

Physiotherapist and Ph.D. student Sarah Mingels is not one of those people. “Already during my time as a student at UHasselt I was fascinated by complex pain problems”, Sarah explains. “This interest grew even further when I observed that the number of young patients with pain problems, that seemed to be linked to their posture, increased in my practice. Not only that, they all shared one common factor: headaches. One literature study later a new Ph.D. project was born.”


“My research project focusses on the posture of the spine during sitting and how this might differ for patients who suffer from headaches. In order to achieve this, I use the 3D-movement analysis at the ‘motion lab’ of Hogeschool Zuyd. During the experiment, participants have to execute a task at a laptop for a time period of 30 minutes while we simultaneously observe the curves of their spinal cord. We then compare the results of the control group with those of the group of people with headaches to see if there are differences.”

“In addition to this, we investigate whether patients who suffer from headaches have higher pressure sensitivity. This information might help us determine whether patients are likely to develop a chronic pain problem. Given the complexity of headaches, the patients also have to fill in a questionnaire that focusses on psychosocial factors like sleep quality, fear, stress, quality of life, …”


“Despite the fact that the study is still ongoing, we already observed some interesting preliminary trends. The prevalence of patients with a headache related to sitting posture appears to be larger for women, especially during their productive years. Also, these patients seem to actually have a different neck posture while executing tasks at their laptop. Finally, the neck, jaw and head muscles of the patients are more sensitive when compared to the control group.”

“With my Ph.D. research, I hope to be able to profile patients with posture-related headaches based on their sitting posture, pain reaction, and psychosocial factors. I also want to identify some determinants to enable therapeutic interventions that are custom made for each patient individually and can be used in practice to help people that are suffering from headache disorders. If we can show that the neuro-musculoskeletal system is involved, a multidisciplinary approach is needed that involves the physiotherapist.”


Sarah Mingels is affiliated with the pediatric research group within the Rehabilitation Research Center (REVAL) of UHasselt, where she prepares her Ph.D. under the supervision of prof dr. Marita Granitzer.  The joint Ph.D. project is executed in collaboration with KU Leuven (prof dr. Wim Dankaerts), Zuyd University of Health Technology and Biometrics and the hospitals East-Limburg, AZ Vesalius, Jessa, and Zuyderland – Sittard.