With the increasing use of smart phones and computer screens, forward head posture is fast becoming a common problem for many people who I see coming to my practice. It has a wide range of effects with far reaching consequences.
Forward head posture : Causes
As we concentrate on our work, it is easy to find ourselves leaning into the screen. If this happens on a regular basis, the muscles at the back of our neck become overly tightened. This then does not allow for our neck to lengthen comfortably, and the head is held rigidly forward of a centre line. Over time, various other muscles of the upper back also become overstretched or overly tightened just to maintain this posture. A contributing factor in this scenario is often the habit of sleeping with the head propped up too high, pushing the head too far forward. The further forward the head is held, the greater the weight is for these muscles to hold up. A head will normally weigh about 5kg when held up correctly on the shoulders. This weight gets magnifies the further forward it is held, up to about 20 kg. This is a huge increase of load on to muscles which are designed to just carry 5kg.
Forward head posture : Consequences
- Over time, these hyperextended neck muscles become exhausted, chronic pain can set in. The tightened tissues don’t just stop in the neck, they extend as one continuous sheet of fabric up into the head, face and jaw. Headaches, migraines, jaw pain and teeth grinding (TMJ dysfunction) are but a few of the resulting symptoms.
- Shoulders often fall forward, creating a rounded shoulders look, which tightens the front of the chest. Movement of the neck, shoulder and arm can become restricted.
- The abdomen becomes squashed, affecting the ability to breathe correctly. To breathe down all the way into the diaphragm is difficult because this posture will not allow for much movement in this region. Shallow breathing often becomes the resulting habit, using your upper lungs only, which leads to further chest and neck restrictions.
- The ability to digest your food becomes difficult when the gut is constantly squashed. It is naturally massaged by the diaphragm rhythmically extending down on to it, this movement keeps the gut working well. Without it, food can become stuck along the way, causing inflammation and further issues over a period of time.
- The spine, which by now has been pulled by various tightened soft tissue out of its more neutral spinal alignment, can be prone to disc degeneration and nerve compressions. Pain, numbness and pins and needles in hands and arms can happen (often referred to as carpal tunnel syndrome). Problems at the lower end of the spine can cause lower back pain and nerve issues down the legs (often referred to as sciatica)
- A postural assessment can give you the information about how your current posture may be affecting your body.
- Areas of resulting tightened soft tissue and muscles can be helped with some manual manipulation therapies, such as massage or craniosacral therapy. This will enable these areas to have more space and movement, reducing chronic pain and restoring function.
- Once any restrictions have been addressed, guidance on posture and correct breathing will you to maintain a more pain free and functional body.
- Here is a link to some desk postural advice.