Posture and head pain
If you were to take inventory of how you burn energy during the day, you may be surprised to learn how much is in your head—literally. Many people use precious energy to hold their heads out of their natural skeletal alignment in—you guessed it—a head-forward position.
Holding the head forward all day long is akin to carrying around a 10-pound pumpkin. This increases the workload of many muscles attached to the neck and spine.
The result can be muscle fatigue and an aching neck. Commonly known as “text neck” or “screen slouch,” Forward Head Posture (FHP) leads to long-term muscle strain, disc herniation, arthritis, and pinched nerves.
Appearing in the last century, FHP is a radical departure from our ancestral stance, the posture homo sapiens experienced for millennia. We live in a forward-facing world of computers, smart phones, TV, video games, and even backpacks. The health consequences are significant.
As over 50% of communication is non-verbal, FHP gives the impression of physical weakness and psychological burden. Many times, I have seen someone walk by in a fabulous outfit only to be struck by their “poor” posture.
Thankfully, it is never too late to reverse the effects of decades of FHP. (Sharing these insights with teenagers could help establish healthy head posture that would support them throughout their lives.)
It is important to recognize that our habitual posture is as much a part of
us as our personality traits. Frequently, I will finish working with a client to improve their head-forward posture, only to watch them walk to the back of the room, begin a conversation with a friend, and unconsciously slip back into their habitual posture. Posture is deeply ingrained with our idea of ourselves. When you change your posture, you are changing you.
Practice the following exercises 20 times a day for two weeks to integrate them into the fabric of your posture and reclaim your energy, poise,
and presence. As I like to say, “Why walk into a room when you can enter it?”
The next time you wonder, “Where’s my head?” … you’ll know.
HEAD STRAIN EXERCISES
Experience the support of the floor (if you are standing) or the chair (if you are sitting) and let yourself be as tall as you can be. Sense the location of your head relative to the rest of your body. Is it too far forward? Is it tilted? Adjust your head to balance on top of your spine:
1. Think balanced, not a frozen position. Let the weight drop out of the neck muscles, so there is less muscle effort.
Sitting upright on the edge of a chair, grab a clump of hair at the base of your skull and gently pull it back and up. The goal is to find a neck position with the jaw gliding back and up and the chin angled down.
Then stand. Feel the back of your head sliding up out of the neck and, at the same time, feel the back of your pelvis sliding down to the heels. Imagine the space between the back of the skull and the back of the pelvis is constantly increasing.
Notice the placement of your eyeballs. Feel the full height of your head above your eyeballs. Tilt your head in the front-to-back plane about 15 degrees (as if your head was a seesaw) without bending your neck. If you want to look down, you do not have to bend your neck. Feel your face parallel to the wall in front of you.
2. Strengthen your neck muscles by folding a six-foot length of fabric into a six-inch wide band. Holding onto each end of the band, wrap it behind your neck. Get down on all fours, holding the band securely under each hand so that it is stretched with moderate tension across the back of the neck. Feel that your head is aligned with your spine and use your neck muscles to push up against the band. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat two more times. Build up to three sets of 10-second holds, three times per day.
3. Sitting upright on the edge of a chair, place (or visualize) a light object, like a folded hand towel, on the crown of your head (the back portion of the scalp) and push up against it. Use the minimum amount of effort required. To save your energy, utilize your well- aligned skeleton to bear the weight— not the muscles.
More Insight: You might also want to check out this great article on shoulder strengthening exercises.
Author: Suzanne Béchard, BPR, has studied extensively with advanced practitioners in movement therapy, stretch therapy, posture and various forms of dance. As a dance and fitness instructor, she has spent over 20 years practicing and refining techniques that enhance natural beauty, grace, and quality of life.