Forward Head Posture – A Pain in the Neck – Part 1
For every inch the head moves forward of the shoulders, the effective weight of the head is amplified by 10 pounds! This means a 12 pound head held 3 inches past the shoulders places 42 pounds of pressure on the neck and cervical extensors. Ouch!
When loads like this are added to the neck, a condition called forward head posture (FHP) (also known as upper crossed syndrome) results and a myriad of problems for the body ensues.
Causes of FHP
A forward head posture can be the result of injuries like sprains and strains of the neck. It can also be created by:
- Weak neck muscles
- Poor sleeping positions
- Improper breathing habits
- Rotational athletics where one side of the body is dominantly used (tennis, golf, hockey and baseball)
- Computer and TV use
- Video gaming
- Heavy backpack carrying
- Movement during work. Certain professionals have a higher risk of developing FHP (hair stylists, massage therapists, painters, computer developers, writers, etc.)
- Poor ergonomic posture during activity and rest that leads to:
Symptoms of FHP
When the pressure on the neck and shoulders is great, the neck and shoulders have to carry the added weight all day in an isometric contraction. This causes neck muscles to strain, lose blood, become fatigued and cause pain.
Some symptoms of forward head posture include:
- Forward head position
- Rounded shoulders
- Chronic pain (neck, shoulders, upper, lower and middle back)
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
- Teeth clenching
- Pinched nerves
- Poor appetite
- Decreased range of motion
- Loss of overall height
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Headaches and migraines
- Numbness or tingling in arms and hands
- Muscle spasms
- Sore and tight chest and neck muscles
- Impaired athletic performance
- Poor sleep or insomnia
- Disc degeneration
- Trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain)
- Mouth breathing/sleep apnea
Typical muscle imbalances associated with FHP/upper crossed syndrome
Tight, facilitated muscles
- Pectorals (pec minor and major)
- Upper trapzius
- Levator scapulae
- Latissimus dorsi
- Arm flexors
Weak, inhibited muscles
- Longus capitis
- Longus colli
- Serratus anterior
- Lower trapezius
- Posterior rotator cuff
- Arm extensors
Physiological consequences of FHP
Posture can negatively effect all of the body’s physiological systems including breathing and hormonal production. Poor posture can alter mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity. Some cases of FHP have even resulted in the loss of 30% of vital lung capacity!
Physical consequences of FHP
There are physical consequences of forward head posture as well. The extra pressure on the neck from altered posture flattens the normal curve of the cervical spine resulting in abnormal strain of muscles, ligaments, bones and joints of the neck. This causes the joints to deteriorate faster than normal, resulting in degenerative joint disease and/or neck arthritis.
Forward head posture is one of the most common causes of neck, head, spinal and shoulder tension and pain. Prolonged FHP contributes to myospasm, disc herniations, osteoporosis and nerve impingement.
How to correct forward head posture
- Implement strengthening and stretching exercises for the muscles in your upper body, from you hips all the way up to your chest, back, neck and head.
- Strengthen your core muscles.
- Practice deep breathing exercises.
- Be mindful of your posture while driving a car, working at a desk, sitting on the sofa, reading, talking on the phone, texting and when sleeping.
- Make sure your desk and office setups at home and work are ergonomically correct.
If you have forward head posture, it is important that you address this issue sooner rather than later. If you choose not to do anything about FHP, serious health consequences like degenerative joint disease and myofascial pain syndrome may develop.
Avoiding the stress of added weight on your neck is important. Practicing mindfulness and focusing on deep breathing and optimal posture will do wonders for the musculoskeletal system. Combine this with an appropriate corrective exercise and myofascial release program and you will help reverse forward head posture and the pain associated with it.
Stay tuned for Part II and III in upcoming weeks
Tune into my blog next Wednesday for Part II of “Forward Head Posture – A Pain in the Neck.” In my second FHP article, I will teach you how to test yourself for forward head posture and in Part III I will outline some corrective exercise techniques that you can add to your lifestyle and workout routines.
- I want to hear from you.
- Do you suffer from forward head posture/upper crossed syndrome?
- Has forward head posture negatively impacted your life in any way?
- Do you know what caused FHP to develop?
Please share your experience in the comment section below this article.
- Gore DR et al. Roentgenographic findings of the cervical spine in asymptomatic people. Spine 1986;6:591-694.
- Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3
- Kelly Starrett. Sleeping: neck shoulders and pillows | Ep. 37 [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnlDTyMRRGg
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.