One of the most common postural problems is forward head posture. When we regularly perform activities that focus our attention directly in front of us (e.g. computer work) a muscle imbalance in the neck and shoulders develops. This imbalance pulls the head forward and out of alignment with the rest of the body.
Never Too Early To Correct Bad Posture
The body is very good at adapting to the positions we spend the most time in. When we are constantly using bad posture the muscles and connective tissue in our bodies adjusts to make it easier for us to stay in those bad positions! The earlier you start correcting your posture, the easier it is change.
Forward head posture is a habitual problem, meaning it’s caused by bad habits performed over several years.
This posture not only looks bad, but leads to a number of problems like neck pain, headaches, shoulder issues, and jaw problems. With the weight of the head being carried in front of the body the muscles in the back of the neck have to work harder leading to chronic neck tension. The change in neck alignment also causes changes lower down in the spine resulting in hyperkyhosis (or hunchback) in the thoracic spine and anterior pelvic tilting in the low back and pelvis.
If that doesn’t convince you to start working on your posture, there’s also some interesting research being conducted now showing that our posture affects not only our body but our brain as well. The way we stand and hold ourselves certainly affects how others see us, but it may also affect how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains in this video how posture influences our behavior. Lastly, from a cosmetic standpoint having forward head posture simply doesn’t look good. The good news is that forward head posture is reversible.
A quick way to test for forward head posture is the wall test
- Stand with your head and back against a wall with your heels about 6 inches away
- See how many fingers can be placed between the back of your neck and the wall
- If you can fit more than three fingers back there (meaning your neck is more than 3 fingers’ width or about 2 inches away from the wall) then you likely have some degree of forward head posture.
Don’t feel bad if you do. I’d estimate that around 90% of the adult population does too, myself included. It’s all part of the world we live in with hours spent in front of a computer or behind the wheel of a car. Being aware of the problem is key to correcting forward head positioning and stopping or reversing the long-term effects of poor neck posture.
Correcting Forward Head Posture
Restoring alignment to a neutral posture helps relieve neck pain and improves the overall health of your spine. Studies have shown forward head correction exercises are helpful for several conditions ranging from scoliosis to nerve root pain.
- For computer work position the monitor so that the top third of the screen is level with your eyes and placed between 18 and 24 inches away from your face.
- In sitting, whether at your desk, in a car, or on the couch, make sure to sit straight and maintain a curve in your lower back. Try to find chairs that have some amount of built-in low back support. Keeping the lumbar spine in good alignment will help keep your head from drifting forward.
- Don’t sleep with multiple pillows. We spend about 1/3 of our lives sleeping so it’s important to not reinforce bad alignment during this time. Often I’ll see elderly patients who are uncomfortable or who have difficulty lying flat on their back without pillows because they’ve lost so much range of motion in their necks.
Exercises for Forward Head Correction
Chin tuck: This is one of the most effective ways to restore good alignment and it’s easy to do just about anywhere. Stand or sit as straight as possible and imagine someone is pushing your nose toward the back of your head. Using your neck muscles pull your head back while keeping your eyes level.
This should bring your ears directly over your shoulders and put your head in good alignment like the picture above on the right. Try not to move your head up or down, but instead let it glide back. Hold for 5 seconds then return to the start position and repeat
Chin tuck in supine: Lie on your back without anything behind your head. Try to nod your head, bringing your chin closer to your chest, without lifting the back of your head off the bed or floor. Hold for 5 seconds then return to the start position and repeat
Both of these exercises can be performed throughout the day. It’s better to do a small number of repetitions more frequently (like 10 every hour) then trying to do a lot all at once. Remember, the posture you have now took years to develop so it will take time and practice to restore good posture.
If you’re having trouble visualizing the chin tuck, try this: place the back of your hand underneath your chin with your palm facing down. Now imagine your hand is a table and try to slide your chin in along that “table”.
Another piece of advice that I heard and has stuck with me is that when you’re walking around pretend you are a superhero wearing a cape around your neck. Hold your head the way you would if someone was behind you pulling on the cape.
Good posture and superhero status, a great combination.
Forward head posture is easy to correct once you understand how to get your head and neck in a good position. After that it just takes practice. While you’re working on getting better posture also think about what your lower back is doing. Take a look to see if you’re pelvis is tilted and what you can do to improve that.