“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).
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.
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.