What Is Forward Head Posture?
As the head moves forward, the neck straightens while the righting mechanism of the eyes rotates the head up. So, it is a coupled distortion and not just a simple bending of the neck. This places a great deal of strain on the neck structures as they need to balance the weight of the head, about the weight of a bowling ball. As the laws of physics dictate, the further away from the body a weight gets, the more the effective weight is – the heavier it feels and the harder muscles must work to hold it. It takes just an inch of forward head posture to increase the effective weight that the neck muscles and ligaments must support by 10 pounds. Imagine a forward head posture of 3 or 4 inches!
Why Is Forward Head Posture Bad?
It has direct implications for the head and neck. Some neck muscles become weakened, while others become contracted. This leads to chronic muscle strain. Ligaments become stretched. This places an imbalance of pressure on the discs in the neck. Over time, these structures become damaged and arthritis and disc problems can result.
Another feature is the pressure on nerves at the base of the skull. This area becomes narrowed with the head rotating upwards, pinching the nerves between the base of the skull and the top of the neck. Women are particularly vulnerable since this space is typically more narrow than in men. The nerves in this region are attached to a sensitive layer covering the brain and can cause headaches. Irritation of this covering may be the reason for a hangover headache from too much alcohol.
Forward head posture can also affect breathing & oxygen levels. This causes a decrease in the capacity of the lungs to hold oxygen. This decrease in oxygen has far reaching consequences and can affect the way your digestive system absorbs nutrients as well as complicate asthmatic conditions and circulatory problems.
What Causes Forward Head Posture?
Injuries like strain and sprains from whiplash can cause muscle and ligament damage which affects the ability to maintain a healthy posture. In a computer driven society, harmful upper body posture is often cause by sitting at a computer or laptop for long periods. Often deep into work, we forget to maintain appropriate positioning. Reading in bed also places the head and neck forward. The typical slumped posture, often related to poorly designed seating poses a risk of bad posture. This implicates not only the neck, but the lower back and upper back as the shoulders become rounded, stretching the scapular muscles between the shoulder blades and placing harmful forces into the low back area. Over months and years, this re-sets muscle memory and it becomes habit. Breaking this habit requires some effort, however, although there are many and varied methods developed to correct forward head posture, there are some relatively easy ones to help.
Correcting Forward Head Posture
The methods vary from lifting weights, muscle therapy, vibrational cervical traction devices, head weights, adjustments and/or manipulations of spinal vertebra, postural re-education…. the list is almost endless of simple home based measures to complicated and expensive office based procedures. Any help in the right direction is beneficial.
Although there are many muscle groups involved, research has found that the deep muscles in front of the neck are a main culprit involved with forward head posture. These muscles become overstretched and weakened, allowing the head to move further into the forward head posture. A simple but specific neck stretching exercise can help with this. It is a simple exercise or stretch which involves reversing the motion produced in forward head posture. This is a primary factor in correcting forward head posture. It takes some practice, but it has been shown to improve posture and has the ability in some cases to immediately affect neck pain and related headaches.
It is important to have a method that is easy to do and can be done anywhere and anytime. It also does not require any exercise equipment, although there are products to assist. The forward head posture correction exercise can be done quickly and repeated many times throughout the course of a day. This is important since we are also trying to break a bad habit.
Remember it consists not only the head moving forward, but a rotating up of the head. So, the motion performed in correcting forward head posture consists of retracting the head over the shoulders and performing a nodding motion downward, as if you are motioning “yes”. This nodding motion opens the space between the base of the skull and the top of the neck. Since we are targeting the deep muscles, there should be no activity in the superficial or top layer of muscles. Therefore, when performing the forward head posture correction exercise, you can begin by placing your hand over the front of the neck to make sure you do not feel the muscles moving. The head and neck are straight with retraction and then the chin comes slightly down, while the back of the head comes slightly up.
Practice makes perfect, and it will take a little time to master this. You will feel it in the back of your neck if you are doing it correctly. It is quality that matters, not quantity. Perform this motion and hold for a few seconds then relax. The better you get, the longer you can hold the position. It can easily be done while sitting at a computer, driving, standing or lying down. It can be done without looking silly, so nobody knows you are actually doing a stretch to improve the postural muscles of the neck for pain relief as well as long term rehabilitation. It can be done as often as you like, even once an hour can have great benefits in correcting forward head posture.