On average the human head weighs around 8 pounds. This accounts for roughly 8% of your overall body weight, yet all of this weight is held up by your seven cervical vertebrae and the muscles in your neck. Thankfully your body’s natural biomechanics places the majority of this weight directly on top of your spine allowing the muscles in your neck to provide more passive support. This delicate balance between your muscular system and your spinal cord and spinal nerves is easy disturbed.
A common disturbance occurs when unhealthy postural habits result in a condition called forward head posture. This happens when your chin juts forward, placing your head too far forward and out of balance with your spine.
The causes of this occur commonly with everyday tasks such as:
• Repeatedly looking down while typing or reading.
• Sitting improperly with rounded shoulders and a hunched back..
• Driving with your head more than 2 to 3 inches away from the headrest.
• Carrying a backpack or heavy purse slung over one shoulder.
Forward head posture can result in discomfort that if not addressed can result in chronic back pain, neck pain, and headaches.
Here are some more facts about the long term effects of forward head posture brought to you by The PT Project.
1. The effects of chronic forward head and neck postures are long-term . . . and may result in muscle strain, disc herniation, nerve impingement, and the early onset of arthritis in the joints of the neck.
2. Forward head posture is strongly linked to decreased respiratory muscle strength and breathing ability, which results in up to a 30% loss in vital capacity in the lungs as well as a significant increase in cardiac and vascular pressure.
3. For every inch of forward head posture, it is found to increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds. On average, this is over a 100% increase of weight bearing stress on the spine and it’s associated neuro-muscular structures.
4. A loss of the cervical spinal curve, due to forward head posture, can stretch the spinal cord up to 7 centimeters resulting in adverse neural tension. Subsequently, this causes additional tension of the meninges and elicits additional pressure on the brain-stem nuclei leading to increased compression and disruption of basic metabolic control functions and diseases.
5. Forward head posture results in an increase in discomfort and pain, due to disrupted proprioceptive and sensory input from the first four cervical vertebrae.
6. Forward head posture results in an anterior translation of the body’s center of gravity, which in turn results in a significant loss of balance and coordination, along with and increased probability of sustaining a fall.
Take a moment right now and get a sense if your head is balanced atop your spine. If your head is forward, think about tucking your chin, as if you were gliding your chin on a marble table. Don’t lift your chin of the “table.” And avoid the temptation to push your chin down onto the table. Simply glide your chin back. This lengthens the back of your neck, taking pressure off of nerves and muscles. Check your posture often during the day to make sure you’re not falling victim to the hazards of the hazards of forward head posture.
For more information on how physical therapists can help you improve your posture and the way you feel, visit our clinic website by clicking here. Or call our clinics at 251-2323 or 541-2606.
Brent Dodge is the founding owner of Alpine Physical Therapy and is a board certified orthopedic specialist. He holds additional certifications in Functional Dry Needling, Manual Physical Therapy, and Strength and Conditioning.
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