Good cervical spine or neck posture is when your head is properly balanced over the shoulders. The ears are centered over the shoulders and balancing your head weight is effortless. In this perfect scenario, the cervical spine should have a nice soft “C” shape to it. When standing perpendicular to a mirror, you should be able to draw a straight vertical line from the center of your ear to the center of your shoulder.
So, what is Forward Head Posture (FHP)? FHP is when you are losing that nice soft “C” shape to your cervical spine. The cervical spine is straightening causing your head to be held in a more forward position, and it is no longer balanced over your shoulders. This is called a “Military Spine” in the chiropractic field.
The average adult human head weighs 10 to 11 pounds (think of a bowling ball). “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. That is an astounding amount of pressure placed on your neck every single day! Just think about that for a moment. No wonder we all have neck pain!
With this type of straightening of the cervical spine, the shoulders start to roll forward due to the additional weight of the head, and the ears are out in front of the center of the shoulders. In this scenario, the neck is constantly straining to keep your head up and eyes forward. To get a better visual, I recommend googling images for “Forward Head Posture.”
The result of FHP can be seen in the symptoms you are experiencing such as chronic tension headaches, chronic muscle spasm and tightness in the neck causing neck pain, and it can also increase muscle spasm and tension in the shoulders and the upper back. This is because all of your upper back and neck muscles are straining and tightening to hold your head up. If you have ever held a bowling ball, it is much easier to hold it when it is closer to your body. However, the bowling ball feels heavier if you are holding it away from your body, even if it’s a few inches. It’s the same principal with your head and neck.
As FHP progresses, it will cause degenerative joint disease in the neck. Your vertebral discs will begin to wear down; and if that isn’t extreme enough, arthritis can develop, and your vertebrae will actually begin to change their shape and form bone spurs. This all means more neck pain. Sadly, I’ve seen it all.
In my opinion, one of the primary cause of FHP is our constant leaning forward with our neck and head to get a closer look at a computer screen; and secondly, looking down for long periods of time at our devices or doing desk work. So, both adults and children can develop FHP.
So, can FHP be reversed? In my opinion, it absolutely can. I treat FHP on a daily basis. However, there is also home care involved which requires performing a particular type of neck traction every day. This type of traction is intended to put that nice curve back in the neck again. Sleeping on a quality cervical pillow also holds the neck in proper position while sleeping. As part of my treatment, I also provide instruction on strengthening exercises for the neck and upper back, which eases muscle tension and makes the neck and upper back stronger, so it can balance your head with less strain on the neck.
Of course, the earlier you catch it the smoother the neck rehabilitation will go. Chiropractic care including adjustments, electrical muscle stimulation and myofascial release therapy can all help alleviate the symptoms as the neck is repositioning itself through the traction and exercise program. It can be a lengthy process for sure, as you are re-training bone structure. I liken it to braces moving teeth.
So with a little time and effort, you will be feeling much better; and more importantly, the end result is a healthier cervical spine!