Forward Head Posture

Every day thousands of men, women and children feel the negative effects of forward head posture, yet may not necessarily know its source or how to fix it.

Forward head posture or any type of spinal misalignment that causes abnormal body posture can reek havoc on your body.

It usually starts with a slight increase in the tension behind the head, neck and shoulders.

Eventually it progresses to tingling in the arms or legs, increased pain in the neck, increased headaches, and even feelings of fatigue that can span 3 or 4 days of out the week.

If left untreated, those symptoms can worsen quickly and start an onslaught of other problems that can make living life difficult, including walking, sitting and sleeping.

While most people spend time and money battling the symptoms, they aren’t addressing the core of the problem.

Most people simply pound coffee or energy drinks, pop pills such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen to battle their headaches and migraines, invest thousands in space-aged mattresses or super chairs, or buy the latest gadgets to diminish the pain.

But at the end of the day, their forward head posture is not corrected and it gradually begins to impact digestion, immune system function, and even organ function – something that most people rarely notice happening until it’s too late.

Your nerves coming in and out of your spine are responsible for the function of EVERY system in your body.

Cardiovascular, immune, digestion, reproduction, and your muscles go through their daily tasks using nerve energy and information flow from the brain.

What do you think will happen to your body and its long-term health if your poor posture or spinal misalignment prohibits these nerves from doing their job properly?

Let's dive in and discuss a few things…

What is Forward Head Posture?

Forward head posture (FHP) is associated with the head moving in an anterior or forward relationship to the shoulder or lower spine versus an “ideal” position, which would have the ears in line with the shoulders. [1]

FHP is also associated with an increased kyphotic thoracic spine or thoracic hyperkyphosis. What the heck is that?

The middle part of your spine is known as the thoracic spine, and when it curves too much (think of the elderly when they're hunched forward from the mid back) it's called hyperkyphosis.

Hyperkyphosis is certainly something people don't like ethetically, but hyperkyphosis is associated with increased mortality from all causes, particularly in elderly men [2] and women [3,4], even independent of osteoporosis [5].

Forward head posture is not simply caused by poor posture itself, but can be manifested by poor ergonomic [6], traumas (i.e. falls, sports injuries and whiplash) [7], chronic pain [8] and even a loss of the normal cervical curvature.

If you're a patient of our office, you should have your xray report with the cervical curve measurements measured for you.

Spine research has determined that a statistically significant association between neck pain and neck curvature occurs when you have <20º and a ‘clinically normal’ or healthy range for neck curvature is between 31º to 40º . [9]

What Are the Symptoms of Forward Head Posture?

Because Forward Head Posture can impact all sorts of systems in the body, the symptoms of forward head posture are vast.

That said, let's start with an understanding of what muscles can be impacted.

Muscles That Become Long and Weakened With Forward Head Posture

Common muscles that elongate and weaken due to long-term forward head posture include:

    • Deep cervical flexors. These muscles, also called the longus capitus and longus colli, are located along the front of the cervical spine and help stabilize the neck. When weakened, the deep cervical flexors lengthen as the chin tilts away from the neck, often called “chin poking.”
    • Erector spinae (lower cervical and upper thoracic).These are extensor muscles attached to the back of the lower cervical spine and upper thoracic spine. The erector spinae play a key role in rotating and straightening the spine. When the erector spinae muscles lengthen and lose strength, they are less capable of keeping the neck and upper back from hunching forward.
    • Shoulder blade retractors. The middle trapezius and rhomboid muscles in the upper back help bring the scapulae (shoulder blades) backward to keep the shoulders back and chest open in good posture. Weakened trapezius and rhomboid muscles allow the shoulder blades to tilt forward, further contributing to hunched shoulders and forward head posture.

Muscles That Become Short and Tightened with Forward Head Posture

These are the muscles that commonly shorten and tighten due to long-term forward head posture:

    • Suboccipital muscles. These 4 pairs of small muscles, which connect the lower back of the skull to the top of the cervical spine, help with head rotation and extension. These muscles work extra hard and continually contract to keep the head tilted up and looking straight ahead during forward head posture.
    • Chest muscles. As the muscles in the upper back tend to become elongated as the shoulder round forward, chest muscles may become shortened and tight. An example includes the pectoralis minor muscles, which are a pair of thin triangular muscles in the upper part of the chest.
    • Levator scapulae muscles. This pair of muscles is located along the back and side of the neck, traveling from the upper cervical spine down to the shoulder blade (scapula). The levator scapulae plays a key role in lifting or elevating the scapula, in addition to helping with various neck movements. If the shoulder blade starts to tilt forward and rotate up with round.

Forward Head Posture Symptoms

When forward head posture causes muscle pain, it typically feels like one or more of the following:

    • General soreness. This dull or achy pain may spread across the side or back of the neck, as well as into the upper back, shoulder, and/or head.
    • Intense pain. If a muscle is strained and/or goes into spasm, resulting in tightness and severe pain that may feel sharp or burning. Intense neck pain may worsen with specific positions or movements but alleviate in other positions or at rest. This pain is typically localized in one spot—such as the side of the neck or base of the skull—rather than spreading across a region.
    • Trigger point pain. This pain involves tender, taut spots in muscles that can become even more painful when touched. Trigger points are especially common along the back of the neck, but the pain can also be referred up into the head or down into the shoulders. Some studies have linked trigger point pain as being more likely with forward head posture, especially in people who have migraines or other types of headaches.
    • Muscle tightness. Muscles can become inflamed and tight due to being overworked, injury, trigger point pain, or in response to nearby inflammation, such as from a herniated disc. Due to pain and reduced muscle function, the neck may become stiff or less mobile.

Forward Head Posture Negatively Impacts Nervous System Function

A new study published in the journal Gait & Posture has demonstrated that forward head posture negatively impacts the autonomic nervous system. [10]

The autonomic nervous system is the part of our nervous system that controls unconscious functions such as heart rate, swallowing, breathing, digestion, arousal, etc.

Specifically the study found:

  • Forward head posture negatively affects cervical sensorimotor control.
  • Forward head posture negatively affects the autonomic nervous system.
  • There is a strong correlation between the CVA and cervical sensorimotor outcomes.
  • There is a strong correlation between the CVA and skin sympathetic outcomes.

In short, if someone has forward head posture, they will exhibit abnormal control of their neck muscles and positioning as well as experienced diminished functions that the autonomic nervous system controls (i.e. breathing, heart rate, digestion, arousal, etc.).

Since more than 90% of brain activity comes from the stimulation of the spine, if we have an abnormal posture, we will influence negatively the receptors of the spine that will then send information to the brain.

An overstimulation of the spinal receptors could potentially influence the ability of your child to sit still, read, learn and socialize appropriately.

Key Takeaways & Tips

Considering the impact that forward head posture has on our health, it shouldn't be taken lightly.

Here's 5 tips on improving posture:

Perform the Wall Posture Awareness Exercise Daily

Simply walk up to a wall and line up your heels, butt, mid back and the back of your head against the wall. Allow your arms to fall by your side and stay in this position for 30 seconds every day. It might feel awkward at first, but this minor adjustment pulls your shoulder blades back and opens your chest.

Sit Up

Many people position themselves on their seats in a way that promotes poor posture. Try sitting at the edge of your chair as this may force you to be more “active” when you sit.

Ground Your Feet

Whether standing or sitting, be sure to keep both feet firmly planted. Make sure not to shift your weight to one side when standing and keeping your legs uncrossed when sitting. Grounding your feet will help keep your upper body straight without you having to think about doing so

Imagine Your Body Is Held By A String

An excellent way to maintain good posture is to pretend that a string is connected to your head and pulling it upward. It helps you keep your head and spine in alignment without tightening the rest of your muscles, which could lead to strain.

Visit A Chiropractor

If you’re suffering from pain or discomfort as a result of your posture, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with a professional. Family Health Chiropractic can help you determine if there are underlying issues that may need attention.