Forward head posture, also known as anterior head carriage, is a common complaint among individuals seeking chiropractic care for neck pain. At our Southside Edmonton chiropractic office, we frequently encounter patients dealing with this issue.
What is forward head posture?
Forward head posture refers to a postural imbalance where the head protrudes forward in relation to the shoulders. This forward position can cause the upper back to appear rounded, resembling a "hump" or "hunchback." The appearance of a rounded upper back is often a result of the forward posture of the neck, creating the visual illusion of a more prominent neck-upper back junction. Sometimes, patients are more concerned about this hump or hunchback appearance than the actual neck pain itself.
This postural imbalance is often called "rounded shoulders," which is a common issue among those with shoulder pain in Edmonton. (make this a caption on a photo)
Why do I have forward head posture?
Factors of your day-to-day life contribute to forward head posture. Poor postural habits, especially those related to desk ergonomics, are often to blame. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people started working from home using laptops, which increased the prevalence of symptomatic forward head posture in our office.
Just like plants grow toward the light, our head and neck posture tends to follow our eyes and can be affected when we constantly look down at our computer or phone screens. Spending several hours a day in a looking-down position reinforces the forward posture by strengthening the muscles holding the head this way. With time, our body begins to maintain this position even outside work hours.
Trauma from motor vehicle accidents and whiplash injuries are other significant causes of forward head posture. Sometimes, it takes years for the full consequences of this postural imbalance to surface, making it challenging to identify the initial injury. Other incidents, such as falls from playgrounds or off horses, can also result in whiplash-type injuries and contribute to forward head posture.
Vision and hearing problems can also play a role in exacerbating forward head posture. Individuals may squint or lean forward during conversations when their vision or hearing is impaired. These are often subconscious reactions that individuals are unaware of throughout the day. Identifying these factors is crucial, especially when previous treatments have failed to provide relief. At our office, we frequently refer patients to audiology for hearing testing and optometry for visual assessments when we suspect these factors contribute to a patient's neck pain associated with forward head posture.
Why do my neck and shoulders hurt?
Forward head posture can lead to chronic neck pain, headaches, and breathing difficulties. Identifying lifestyle factors that contribute to anterior head carriage is essential for improving your well-being. As chiropractors, we take a special interest in neck pain management and become concerned about significant degrees of forward head posture due to the increased physical stress it places on the neck muscles and spinal bones.
Prolonged physical stress and increased loading can cause gradual changes in bone shape, accelerating the development of neck arthritis. The farther the head is positioned forward, the more force is required to hold it up. Imagine how difficult it is to carry a heavy object holding it out far from your body. Carrying your head closer to your body reduces the energy required and makes the load of the head feel lighter.
Severe cases of forward head posture can even affect breathing. Have you ever seen a medical TV drama where the patient's head is tilted back to open the airway? Then you can understand how forward head posture restricts your breathing day-to-day.
Excessive fatigue or shortness of breath may result from severe forward head posture. Addressing the postural factors contributing to this imbalance can help alleviate these symptoms and enhance overall health. Managing forward head posture is crucial for natural pain relief in neck pain, headaches, and shoulder pain patients.
When managing forward head posture, it's important to consider the whole person. You may hold stress in specific body parts. Psychological and emotional issues should not be overlooked. Those with forward head posture may also feel self-conscious about their appearance, increasing anxiety, stress, and worsening chronic neck symptoms.
By understanding the factors contributing to this postural imbalance, we can address them through education, rehabilitation, and treatment. It does not take long to improve the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of patients.
Treatment options for forward head posture include:
Strengthening the deep neck flexors, posterior shoulder muscles, and upper back muscles through prescribed exercises is crucial. These recommended exercises improve muscular endurance, helping the body maintain better alignment. Stretching will alleviate tension, improve your range of motion, enhance flexibility, and reduce the strain on overworked muscles.
What can I do?
When you're experiencing pain, think about whether you've been sitting in one position for a long time, like at a desk. Postural retraining and education are essential for addressing any postural concern, including forward head posture. Postural retraining involves increasing awareness of our postures and consciously maintaining a more neutral or biomechanically aligned state. Simple, supportive tools, like mirrors, can help reduce everyday pain.
If you have chronic neck pain from forward head posture, we encourage looking at a collaborative approach. Patients often work with physiotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncture providers, and chiropractors to develop a comprehensive relief program. Each treatment provider offers a unique approach, and the effectiveness of any given therapy may vary depending on the individual. We firmly believe in the power of collaborative care and encourage you to work with the professionals providing the most benefit.
If you're concerned about your neck alignment, we are here to help manage forward head posture. Please click on the top right corner to book an appointment for better health and well-being.