Neck Posture

Where is Your Head at? An Overview of Neck Posture

If you’re reading this, then you’ve hopefully read my previous blog on posture and pelvic positioning so now lets take a look to the lofty heights of our head and shoulder position and how to avoid the dreaded text neck (ominous music plays) – and see if we can’t dodge a headache or two while we’re here.

Part A – Forward Head Posture

Possibly the most commonly seen postural presentation, given our modern day obsession with handheld devices such as mobiles and tablets, but what effect is the constant checking of emails and texts having on our neck and shoulders?

It may seem like the easiest way to sit is to sink and slump into a rounded posture, but this essentially involves hanging off the passive support mechanism of the body (meaning hanging off bones and ligaments), rather than using our active support (meaning muscles and tendons) – and, long term, things will build up. To recreate this effect, try to completely relax all the muscles of the neck and let the head slump forward as far as possible – this is an exaggerated version of using the passive support mechanism mentioned previously.

The translation of the head forward and downward on the shoulders causes shortening and inhibition (meaning improper function) of the deep neck flexors (the little muscles running down the front of the neck). As a result of the loss of balance between the anterior and posterior neck musculature, extra strain is placed on the muscles that run from the neck down to the shoulders, as the weight of the head hangs off them, resulting in muscle soreness and tension in the back of the neck and shoulders whilst also stretching the ligaments and joint capsules here.

This effect is exacerbated the further forward the head moves. It is estimated that for every inch the head moves forwards its relative weight increases in a Richter-scale type way. Given the human head weighs on average 12 lbs, which is roughly the weight of a medium bowling ball, it’s not hard to see how it can stress the structures supporting it.

Imagine picking up a bowling ball and holding it directly in front you so that it touches your chest with your arms bent. Now imagine slowly moving the ball forward a few inches and having to hold it there for 16 hours. That is what your poor neck is having to deal with.

The forward and downward movement of the head also creates a situation whereby our eyes would be looking at the floor if our neck where to hold its normal curvature. Obviously this isn’t the most stimulating view and so the brain compensates to keep the eyes level by tilting the head back and increasing the curve of the neck. Whilst this keeps our eyes looking forward and properly interacting with the beautiful world around us, this compensation increases the curvature of the neck (especially the upper portion). This creates extra compressive forces on the facet joints, especially at the top 2 or 3 vertebra in the cervical spine, along with a shortening of the muscles at the base of the skull and along the posterior neck.

Again try completing relaxing the neck muscles and let the head flop forward – pretty boring view, right? Now, from this position, try to bring the eyes horizontal by angling the head backwards, but without actually lifting the head back up and you can feel the compressive effects at the base of the skull.

The compression and irritation of these upper neck joints, as well as the increase in tension in the neck muscles, may also give rise to headaches both at the base and to others part of the head, owing to the neural connections of the neck and face.

So whilst it may feel easier, or even more natural, to let the head sit forward on the shoulders, in reality it’s the bodies way of making use of the bones and ligaments rather than supporting its own weight (lazy old brain!) and, in the long run, leads to more harm than good.

Thankfully, this is easily dodged with a bit of simple body awareness. By keeping the head and eyes up and level and keeping our ears back over our shoulders, we offload the structures on the back of the neck and balance the weight of the old noggin a little more evenly – especially important if you’re burdened with a brain the size of mine 😉


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