Updated: Oct 9, 2018
It's no secret that many of us are losing the battle with gravity, and shrinking forward into bad posture. It's difficult to avoid leaning forward these days with mobile phones, computer workstations, too much sitting, and stress. As we slink forward into a kyphotic, hunched over posture (top right) many people suffer from headaches, migraines, neck, jaw or shoulder pain and fatigue.
Forward head postures, or 'Poke neck' aren't just a structural issue for the body. Aside from the physical symptoms like pain, forward head posture can create a reduction in lung capacity, compression of all of the vital organs of the viscera, poor lymphatic circulation, reduced energy, depressive mindset, and compromised brain function.
The longer this posture is maintained, it will also alter the physical structure of the body to become more stuck like this. Repeated positions and mechanical stresses, lead to adaptations as the body attempts to reinforce the positions that are often used. This may mean changes to bone structure, muscle tone, and facial tissue, making it harder to reverse as time goes on. The appearance of the face and neck too, will change and we may develop jowls, double chins, and turkey necks, just because out neck and head have migrated further forward than where it should be!
The consequence of this posture on your body is severe:
'For every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds!' - Kapanji, Pysiology of joints Vol 3
What can you do to change it?
Firstly you need to pay attention to the repetitive stresses you are inflicting upon your body and posture. This posture can be difficult to get out of, especially if you are spending 12 hours a day in it (working leaning forward), but only 10 minutes a day trying to reverse the damage. Noticing opportunities of when you are slipping into poor posture and doing your best to switch out of them, is helpful in reducing the amount of repetition you subject your body to.
Although this upper body posture causes the localised problems described above, it actually is a compensation posture that stems from elsewhere in the body. Given the inter connectivity of the entire body, a hunched over, forward head posture is often no fault of the neck. In postures like the above, the neck can sometimes be the last part of the chain to suffer, and is merely compensating for a lack of structural integrity elsewhere which is why it's incredible important to avoid just treating the site of pain - the neck!
Don't chase the pain on the back of the neck or the lower back!
The painful areas are just a cry for attention because they are overworked, because somewhere else is stuck or not moving or functioning efficiently. Pain often occurs in eccentrically loaded, or stretched long tissue, rather than in stuck, or tight areas. Stuck or held areas are often numb or less able to be sensed given that the tissue is dehydrated and lacking proprioception.
It might feel good to release these sore muscles, but when it's sore again a few days later, you know you haven't quite gotten to the bottom of why the muscles are sore in the first place! When you start to work on the real areas that are creating the compensation, you might be surprised at how much tension these areas are holding!
A better solution is to look at the alignment of the whole body. Are the hips, ribs and necked stacked over the feet? Why is the head migrating forward, what is it compensating for? You can read more about how your fascial system can make you look shorter,more hunched and fatter than you actually are here.
Seek out a good movement specialist, manual therapist or structural integration practitioner for further assistance in body reading and getting to the root of the problem. A good strategy is often found via opening up the front of the body and creating space along the front of the chest, neck and abdomen, to alleviate the strain on the back of the body.
3 Quick strategies to assist getting your head on straight:
1. Lay on your back and breathe
Arms out to the sides, knees bent with feet flat, spend at least 10 minutes here breathing deep into your diaphragm, laterally into your rib cage and generally exploring where your breath will, and won't go. The key is to allow your body to soften and surrender with gravity. Note that it can take up to 5 minutes for the shoulder tendons to start to relax in this posture, hence the more time spent here, there better.
Extra benefits will occur from laying on a thoracic wedge, to further open the body, using a sandbag as per the picture to load and enhance the proprioception of your breath, or performing some mobilisers or fascial release prior to breathing. When you finish, roll to the side (rather than crunching up) and you should feel taller and more open. 2. Walk backwards
Walking forwards will tend to load the back of the body and makes us more bent over, but walking backwards tends to elongate the front tissue of the body, making us stand straighter. Walking backwards loads the big toe (do it barefoot!), opens the front of the hips, lengthens the front of the torso, and pulls the head back.
If you don't feel confident walking backwards, you can simply step backwards onto your toes, and alternate legs. Be sure to take a small step, and let the hips tilt slightly upwards so you elongate the front of the body. You shouldn't feel anything in your back.
Kneel on the ground on all fours with your toes tucked under, and reach one arm under the other as you sit back over your heels (as per the picture.) Reach out to the same side, and repeat. This easy mobiliser helps to create positive change in the ankle, hip and thoracic spine. For more simple mobility drills you can do anywhere check out move it or lose it.
As always if you need a hand, reach out to us, and we can help you pull your head in! We promise you there are much better ways to deal with head, neck and shoulder pain than working on the painful muscles of the neck!
*Image from Erik Dalton's Advanced Myofascial Techniques book