In a neutral or upright position, the average adult head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, according to the journal Surgical Technology International. However, there are instances when the head can seem heavier than usual.
Sometimes, this is because of the mechanics of the neck and spine. At other times, it may be due to underlying medical conditions. Normally, if the head feels heavy, there is no need to seek emergency medical treatment.
What are the causes?
Some of the potential causes that make the head feel heavy include:
1. Balance disorders
The head may feel heavy due to underlying medical conditions.
Dizziness and lightheadedness that affect balance can cause the head to feel heavier. These symptoms can also be those of a balance disorder.
Several different types of balance disorder exist. These include:
Each disorder can make a person feel as if their head is heavier than normal.
2. Myasthenia gravis
MG can make what were previously simple tasks, such as chewing, talking, or holding up the head more difficult. These symptoms are known as bulbar weakness symptoms.
3. Poor posture
According to Surgical Technology International, if the neck and head tilt forward by about 15 degrees, the head can feel as if it weighs 27 pounds. At a 60-degree angle, which equates with looking down at the ground, the head can feel as if it weighs 60 pounds.
If someone finds their head feels heavy, they should evaluate how they have been holding it. Prolonged posture that is not the neutral or upright position may cause the head to feel especially heavy.
4. Sinus headache
A sinus headache can cause pain and pressure that can make the head feel especially heavy. People experience this headache when the sinus passages in the front of the face are swollen.
Bacteria and viruses can become trapped inside the sinus passages, leading to swelling, yellow discharge, and nasal stuffiness.
5. Tension headaches
Tension headaches are another headache type that commonly occurs. These headaches cause a dull pain that feels as if the head is being squeezed.
This headache type can also cause shoulder and neck muscle tension that can make the head feel as if it is heavier than normal. A person with a tension headache will typically have it anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours.
Associated symptoms of a head feeling heavy may include muscle tension in the neck and shoulders.
The associated symptoms when the head feels heavy can depend upon the underlying causes.
Most people will experience symptoms that include muscle tension, especially in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. This tension can result in stiffness in the neck, making it difficult to move the head from side to side.
Other symptoms associated with when the head feels heavy include headaches, especially on both sides of the head.
If someone's head feels heavy due to poor posture, it is important that they try to take breaks from looking down. This change of position may involve taking intervals in activities such as typing, texting, or working to stretch the neck and maintain it in a neutral position.
If a person experiences a headache that makes their head feel heavy, they can take over-the-counter pain medications. Examples include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
A person may also wish to try and identify what triggers their tension headache. Examples can include hunger, not sleeping enough, or grinding the teeth at night. Avoiding these habits and, if necessary, getting treatment to help break them, can help a person reduce their tension headaches.
Balance disorders are treated with medications, which can include:
- Anticholinergics: These medications include scopolamine, which is traditionally used to treat seasickness.
- Antiemetics: These drugs treat nausea that a person may experience as a result of their dizziness. Examples can include the combination of dexamethasone (Decadron) and ondansetron (Zofran).
- Antihistamines: These drug types can reduce the effects of motion sickness. Examples of treatments include meclizine (Antivert), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and promethazine (Phenergan).
- Benzodiazepines: These medications are designed to relieve anxiety as well as manage acute motion sickness and vertigo. Examples of benzodiazepines used to treat dizziness include diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax).
Other treatments for balance disorders include exercises to reduce dizziness. An example is the Epley maneuver, which helps to reduce the effects of dizziness related to the inner ear.
What are the home remedies?
Applying a heating pad to the neck and shoulders may be a recommended home remedy.
Headache-relieving home remedies include applying a heating pad to the neck and shoulders. It is essential to ensure the heating pad is covered with a cloth so that a person does not burn their skin.
People should consult with a doctor before using a heating pad if they have diabetes or neurological disorders.
A person may perform neck-strengthening exercises at home if they feel their neck muscles are especially weakened. These exercises can help to reduce muscle tension and strengthen the neck.
However, a person should always check with a doctor before beginning any exercise programs. Examples of these programs include:
This exercise can help to strengthen the muscles of the neck responsible for maintaining excellent posture. To perform it, a person can stand up against a wall, pull their shoulders back, and look straight ahead.
Move and tuck the chin downward to feel a stretch in the back of the neck and the muscles on either side of the collarbone. Hold this position for 5 seconds, release, and repeat 10 times.
The back burn exercise can enhance posture and strengthen the neck muscles. To perform it, stand against a wall with the arms outstretched at shoulder height, palms facing forward.
Slowly bring the arms up in the air, bringing them close to the ears, palms still facing forward. Slowly lower the arms back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times at least three to five times a day.
When to see a doctor
Often symptoms will resolve with at-home treatments, such as improving posture or taking steps to reduce tension headaches. However, if symptoms start to get worse or are interfering with daily life and activities, it is important to seek medical treatment.
One instance where a head could feel heavy is when someone is experiencing a stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency. Some of the signs associated with a stroke include:
- difficulty speaking well or clearly
- facial droop
- sudden problems walking and keeping balance
- severe and sudden headache
- weakness in the arms and neck
A person should call 911 immediately if they think they are experiencing a stroke or heart attack.
If a person's head feels unusually heavy, there are many potential causes and treatments. Taking steps to relieve fatigue and anxiety and stretching the neck can help a person to reduce their symptoms.