My 15.5 Pound Head!

“For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” -Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3

The image below is an actual x-ray of my neck.  The blue line is where my head is supposed to line up, the red line indicates that my head is actually 17 mm too far forward.   The average human head weighs between 8 and 12 pounds.  Mine weighs 8 lbs. (yes, I weighed it).  Before all the physics majors email me, I know this isn’t an accurate measurement of weight when taking into consideration the force generated by shortened muscles (and of course the weight added to my brain by the massive amount of studying I just did), :-) but it’s close enough.  Anyway, 17mm is about .67 of an inch, so I’m guessing I’m adding about 7.5 lbs of weight.   The point is my cervical extensor muscles are burdened with the task of holding up this extra weight against the force of gravity.  A forward head position can cause suboccipital pain, headaches, upper back and neck pain (these were my symptoms).  It’s not uncommon to see folks with their head three inches forward from where it should be.  Forward head position can also cause TMJ pain, sleep apnea, risk of choking while eating, inefficient breathing, disc compression, “foggy” brain and turbulent blood flow (which leads to artery wounding, inflammation and plaque formation).  No thank you! That’s why I’m making it my personal goal to improve my head position.

Here is my plan of action:

1. I vow to stop sitting like a vulture.  Yes, I should congratulate myself for ditching the couch for a yoga bolster, but it does me no good if I sit like a Vulture (I’ve also started to have weird cravings for road kill).

Tip: Post a picture of a vulture on your desk for alignment motivation.

2. Ramp my head back.  Ideally your ears should be lined up over your shoulders.  You should NOT have Shar-Pei like wrinkles at the back of your neck.  To ramp: lower your chin as you glide your head back.  In the pic below I am ramping (yeah!), but I’m cheating (Booo!!).  Can you tell how I’m cheating?

I’m lifting my chest and rotating my rib cage up and back (think mini backbend) to meet my ear position.   This is a common maneuver people use to “sit up straight” and mask their hyperkyphosis.  Posture is different than alignment.  Thrusting your ribs may feel and look (to the untrained eye) like you’re correcting your alignment, but you will only create additional dysfunction and pain.  How You Get There matters!

3. Don’t forget the pelvis! If you must sit at work, sit with pelvis in neutral.  A posterior tilted (tucked under) pelvis will encourage your body into a C shape and make it impossible to get your head into neutral.

 

 

4. Yoga Tune Up for suboccipitals and the TMJ- Yeah Baby! Damn, this feels good!

 

5. Katy Bowman’s Alignment Snacks “A Real Pain in The Neck”Alignment Snack  is an excellent neck and shoulder opener. Another snack that would be great to do is “Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster,” ”Rhomboid Madness” and “The Back Bones Are Connected To Other Back Bones”.   If you don’t know Katy, she is a biomechanist and my teacher in Restorative Exercise™.  She rocks!   Katy is very generous with her educational information, so check out her blog and Alignment Snacks, you’ll learn a ton.  Alignment Snacks are short recorded classes that you can download and watch anytime you wish. At $5 a class, it’s a bargain.

Alignment Snacks

6. Relax the  eyes.  Take short 10 second breaks every 10-15 minutes of focused computer work to look away and expand and relax your gaze.  Always focusing on what’s right in front of you requires muscle tension around the eyes and can cause nearsightedness, which in turn creates more craning of the head forward.  I’ve noticed my eyes are hyper focused  even during my  walks!  It feels so good to let that intense focus go while expanding my view on the horizon.  Instantly, I feel the two vertical lines between my eyes (what I call my “What the f*#k?” lines) soften.  I’ll even have to remind myself to relax my eye muscles when my eyes are closed!  While there isn’t an APP to remind you to relax the eyes during sleep, there is one for the computer time, it’s called Time Out.

Work on these short self-care exercises several times a day and be conscious of your habits.  Working out for an hour at the gym every day doesn’t undo fifteen hours a day of sitting with a forward head position.  The same goes for bodywork.  massage therapy, chiropractic, myofascial release and Rolfing from skilled practitioners can be extremely helpful on your journey to better alignment.  I’ve personally experienced relief from my neck pain and tension during Chi Nei Tsang treatments (Chinese Abdominal Massage) and have seen the same with many of my clients.  Even though these modalities can be very helpful, doing your homework is essential.  With self-care you have the  power to improve your alignment and prevent many physical ailments.  As always be gentle with yourself- you didn’t become avian overnight.

To learn more on blood physics and head position click here.

The post I did on clavicle position could be considered Part One to this post, so find more helpful tips here.

 

10 Responses to “My 15.5 Pound Head!”

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  1. Dianne says:

    I love this post! I’ve been working on getting my head back for years (sigh). It IS better than it used to be. I have Katy’s DVDs (did the “From the Shoulders Up” the other night to my neck’s great relief). The Yoga Tune Up feels so good too! Between you and Katy reminding me to ramp up the neck and keep those ribs down, I will persevere.

    Since I’ve been “leading with my chin” for decades, I now have those Sharpei wrinkles in the FRONT of my neck. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Dianne, When you first start ramping after years of forward head position, you may notice a “double chin”. Is that what you are referring to? If so, that’s totally fine, it means you’re ramping correctly. I first noticed about 10 years ago that I had the wattle under my chin. The wattle was from years of forward head and chin up position which stretches out skin on the front of the neck. Since I have been ramping my head back for the last two years, the wattle has diminished!

  2. Kathryn says:

    I was interested in this blog because I have some major kyphosis going on… Like really major. Remember the forever 21 blog Katy did ? Yea. Ha. So anyway I’m anxious for those exercises with the bands ;) and was wondering, did you have an x ray done when you first started? Like to compare then to now? Just wondering if you did , if you could see a difference. I know this takes time but it’s hard not to be anxious to move things along because I can see it so obviously when I align as much as I can and it’s annoying and frustrating !! Lol but so thankful it was brought toy attention in the first place. :)

    • Hi Kathryn, Unfortunately I didn’t get X-rays before my RE training. I wish I had because I know it is much better now. My symptoms of neck ache and headache have greatly diminished. The little wattle that was below my chin has also disappeared! I have been ramping for about two years now, but I haven’t been as consistent with the other focused neck/shoulder RE until recently. I’ve mostly focused on lower body and psoas work. Katy’s shoulder opening Alignment Snacks are great for those with hyperkyphosis- The internally rotated upper arms and shortened pecs need to be addressed when dealing with hyperkyphosis (in fact, that’s probably where it all started).
      Even though you may still have hyperkyphosis, it’s probably gradually improving. We tend to focus on totally reversing 30 years or so of improper body mechanics and miss our “smaller” accomplishments along the way. I may never totally get my natural cervical curve back, but I know for a fact that I won’t degenerate my discs, or choke on my food when I’m 70. :-)

      • Kathryn says:

        Thanks :) yes tight chest is a major problem area for me… I trusted my ribs and lifted my chest for so long then add three kids carried wrong way, nursing etc. I know I have a looong way to go :) thanks for encouragement

  3. Leah says:

    Love this post. I’ve been working on (intermittently) ramping up over the last year and I have a question. Should this have an effect on your bite? Whenever I ramp up it seems that I can’t get my teeth to come together in a normal way. It also feels like I have to look up more, which makes sense to me, but I’m having trouble understanding the exact relationship between the jaw muscles and how ramping up changes them.

    • Hi Leah, google an image of the platysma muscle and that will probably answer your question. There may be several factors that come into play depending on your unique situation. Since muscle crosses joints, it makes sense that when you change your position and lengthen or shorten muscles it will affect tension in the joints. BTW, the teeth should only be touching during chewing.
      As you probably already know, (but I’ll mention here in case others are curious)- when you first start dropping your chin, it feels like your eyes are looking up because you probably have had chin up position for so many years causing you to look down with your eyes. The muscles below and above the eyes are now being used differently.

      • Leah says:

        Thanks for the reply. I did realize that about the eyes and will google the image of the platysma. Thank you for the info about teeth not meeting unless you are chewing. I worked in several denstists offices and was trained as a dental assistant and never heard this!

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