And What You Can Do About It
By Dr. Mark Wiley
Consider, for a moment, this list of 10 ailments.
- Tension-type headaches
- Tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
- “Knots” in the back of the neck
- “Rocks” in the shoulders
- “Sore” chest muscles
- General irritability
- Poor sleep
- Chronic “achy” feeling all over
- Numbness or tingling in the arms and/or hands
- Trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain)
Did you know that all of them could be caused by (or stem from) the same underlying condition? Can you guess what it is?
The answer is Forward Head Posture (FHP). That’s right, all 10 problems are associated with the same underlying cause.
Forward Head Posture Described
Forward Head Posture is one of the most common postural problems in our so-called “modern” society. In actuality, it is the modern lifestyle that is responsible for it—as we’ll see in a minute. In essence, FHP is the result of either repetitive forward head movement, or the carrying or holding of the head in a position where the ears are forward of the shoulder plum-line.
Proper postural alignment finds ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears all falling along the same vertical line. The relatively heavy head must directly rest on the neck and shoulders, like a golf ball on a tee. Yet, FHP finds the head sticking out, forward of the shoulders, with the ears in line with the chest or front of the deltoids.
Cause and Effect
Many things can cause forward Head Posture. Here is a list of 5 of the more common ones:
- Looking down while typing or reading
- Looking into a microscope
- Sitting improperly with shoulders rounded and back hunched
- Driving with your head more than 2 to 3 inches away from the headrest
- Carrying a backpack or heavy purse slung over one shoulder
These are not all of the causes of FHP, but enough to make the point. The problem is that repeated forward and/or downward facing postures cause concurrent hypotonic (lengthening) and hypertonic (shortening) of several major muscles (i.e., lavater, rhomboid, trapazious, pectoral), degeneration of cervical (neck) vertebrae, and irritation of cervical nerves. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say about it:
“FHP leads to long term muscle strain, disc herniation, arthritis, and pinched nerves.” (Mayo Clinic Health Letter, V.18, #3, March 2000)
Did you know that pinched nerves, tightened muscles, postural imbalance all cause blood stagnation, which leads to toxic buildup. Think of a pond where the water is not moving and has become stagnant. The blockage of free-flowing water leads to stagnant water where nasty things grow. In the human body, where there is blockage or stagnation, there is pain.
What You Can Do
Here are four simple things you can do to correct (or re-balance) a Forward Head Posture.
- Lying Head Raise Lay face down on the floor, with your hands overlapped and held on your lower back. Lift and extend your head and shoulders up, while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for three seconds, and repeat 15 times. Do this three times per day.
- Chin Tuck Hold your shoulders straight. Stick your chin out to the front, hold for three seconds. Pull your chin in as far back as it will go, hold for three seconds. Repeat six times. Do this three times per day.
- Chin to Chest Stretch Overlap your fingers and place both hands behind your head. Use your hands to push your head down so your chin goes toward your chest. Do NOT lower your head and then press with your hands, as this defeats the idea of the stretch. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and return to the upright position. You should feel a stretch between your shoulders. Repeat three times. Do this three times per day.
- Doorway Stretch Stand with both feet parallel behind (but in the center of) a doorframe. Place one arm 90-degrees along the side of the doorframe facing you. If your right arm is touching the frame, then your right foot takes a long step forward. Be sure to bend your knee, as if you were really trying to walk forward. You should feel a nice stretch across your chest. If not, turn your body to the left. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times then switch sides. Do this three times per day.
Here are a few simple ways to adjust your daily activities to prevent FHP from taking hold in your body—or from returning after balance is achieved:
- Make sure the top of your computer screen is level with your eyes, and about two feet away from your face.
- Be sure to carry a backpack squarely over both shoulders to balance the weight distribution.
- If you carry a heavy purse or duffel bag, it is better to sling it diagonally across the torso.
- Have ample lower back support while sitting or lying for prolonged periods, as a relaxed position leads to slouching, which can lead to FHP.
These are but a few simple things you can do to help yourself feel better. It’s better to maintain balance on our own, and to prevent such imbalances to take hold in the body, than to spend years suffering and too much money on treatments.
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Updated: May 12,2011