What is Forward head posture?
As the name suggests Forward Head Posture (FHP) is the gradual loss of normal posture as the head is pulled forward leading to increased pressure on the neck and shoulders. Forward head posture is not only aesthetically displeasing but over time it is known to cause a myriad of soft tissue damage and symptoms.
Decades ago, FHP was commonly overlooked and it was never really a thing. When you read old radiology reports filed by radiologists, it becomes apparent that the loss of normal cervical curve was deemed normal or within normal limits unless a specific condition such as spondylosis was present. Today, more and more healthcare professions are becoming aware of FHP due to growing bodies of research and postural problems worldwide.
For every inch that your head is held forward it gains ten pounds of weight, forcing the muscles of your back and neck to work that much harder to keep your head up.
Rene Cailliet, the University of California's director of physical medicine and rehabilitation states that: "forward head posture can add up to thirty pounds of abnormal leverage..." pulling "the entire spine out of alignment" and "may result in the loss of 30% of vital lung capacity."
FHP causing generalised neck pain and stiffness is acceptable but are you shocked to read that forward head posture can cause decreased lung capacity and pull the entire spine out of alignment? That's a hard one to grasp. But there's more! Chiropractor, Adam Meade explains that the curve of your cervical vertebrae are referred to as "the arc of life" by neurosurgeons because these bones protect the brain stem and are the thoroughfare for spinal nerves that affect every organ and function in the body. So what are the most common signs and symptoms of FHP?
Health Risks Associated With Forward Head Posture
The structure of your spine defines the function of your body. Forward head posture (FHP) is essentially a misalignment of the cervical spine and can cause the following signs and symptoms:
- Aches, fatigue, pain
- Numbness and tingling in the upper limbs
- Disc compression
- Premature arthritis, degeneration
- TMJ (Jaw joint) pain
- Altered blood flow
- Negative behavioural affects among children
Due to the high prevalence of smartphones, sedentary lifestyles and office jobs, new and "never-thought-before" health risks associated with forward head posture are being studied and surfaced everyday. For example, a study was cited in Dr Christ Centeno's article suggesting an association between the loss of normal cervical curve (FHP) and reduced blood flow to the brain!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Forward head posture (or any other misalignments of the spine for that matter) is still not considered as a health crisis due to their chronicity in its development and the perceived insignificance of its symptoms. Having general tightness of the upper body, muscular knots in the shoulder region(s) or having headaches are largely overlooked, ignored or even written off as “normal”. Popping a Panadol never hurt anybody, right? Read: Truths & Myths about Degeneration, this will give you more ideas on why FHP is much more than just poor posture and neck pain.
Chiropractor's Take On Forward Head Posture
Forward Head Posture (FHP) is becoming one of the leading root causes of many musculoskeletal, neurological and functional problems today. FHP is essentially a misalignment of the cervical spine that exerts abnormal pressure on the joints, muscles and nerves. Chiropractors call these culprits "subluxations". Subluxations are oftentimes described as a silent killer because they are often overlooked, yet they impose great health risks. Forward head posture is no different. As we've shared above, FHP has been suggested to reduce blood flow to the brain, pull the entire spine out of normal alignment and cause rapid degeneration!
Then you might be wondering, if they're so "DANGEROUS", why are subluxations or FHP overlooked and ignored?
Subluxations (and FHP/misalignments) are overlooked because of two main reasons:
- They do not cause "serious" symptoms. The immediate signs and symptoms of FHP are mostly trivial. Nobody really cares about neck stiffness.
- The real consequences of FHP and subluxations are in their long-term effects. It is common for people to be more concerned about acute symptoms and conditions (think stroke, cancer, acute pain) then to worry over long-term consequences (think smoking, poor dietary choices, lack of exercise). There is lack of urgency.
Everyone is concerned about diabetes but nobody really cares about healthy diet or regular exercise. Everyone is concerned about cancer but smokers will tell themselves, "it won't happen to me". Life-threatening and chronic illnesses don't just happen without reason, it is a product of years of damage, inflammation and abuse. Forward head posture (or subluxation) is the same, it will only become a problem if you let it.
Forward head posture is caused by trivial activities that we all do on a daily basis. Do you use a smartphone or a computer? Do you wear backpacks? A chiropractor's take on FHP is that: "We all have FHP (or subluxations) to varying degrees and the presence or the absence of symptom(s) is irrelevant. Everyone needs to receive some form of treatment or guidance; NOT to fix a symptom but to improve the function of your spine and PREVENT things from happening. READ: What Does A Chiropractor Really Do?
How to correct Forward Head Posture
A preventative approach towards health is much more efficient than being reactive. In most cases, dysfunction or disharmony of bodily systems begin long before the symptoms start to surface. Prolonged forward head postures will result in premature degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint disease of the spine. Most degenerative changes of the spine are irreversible and due their irreversibility in nature, correcting the underlying problems of FHP is important than to simply mask its symptoms.
Chiropractors are the most effective healthcare practitioners when it comes to posture and spine alignment problems. They work by adjusting specific joints of the spine in order to restore their normal motion and proprioception. To reinforce the effects of chiropractic adjustments, rehabilitative, traction and/or home exercises may be prescribed.
2. Exercises and Home Products
Forward head postures can vary vastly among individuals - the degree of the misalignment, severity of degeneration, and the presence of pre-existing spinal conditions. Therefore if you wish to correct your forward head posture, consulting a chiropractor would be your best bet. However, one thing that all forward head postures have in common is their direction of the misalignment. Everyone misaligns forward not sideways or backwards! Thanks(?) to this, there are numerous equipments and home exercises you can do to counteract general forward head posture syndromes. Below are some good examples:
Do you work in a desk-bound environment?
Do you suffer from neck and shoulder stiffness?
Do you get frequent headaches?
The chances are, you do! And to make things worse, studies have shown that on average, young adults spend at least 7 hours a day on their smartphones, laptops, tablets and/or computers. It is VERY likely that you have FHP. Have you checked? Now’s the time to stop being reactive towards health but become more mindful and practice preventative measures.