How To Fix Forward Head Posture
Correcting ‘Computer Guy’ Posture!
A few months back I discussed how to correct anterior pelvic tilt – also known as ‘butt and gut syndrome’. It quickly became (by far) the most-read article on my blog, so if you haven’t read it yet check it out. So let’s expand on that by discussing the exceedingly-common upper body postural problem that often accompanies anterior pelvic tilt.
First, let’s get one thing straight: you can work on correcting your upper body posture as much as you want, but unless your lower body is balanced and aligned, you’ll never fix what’s going on in the upper back and neck. Stability comes from the bottom up. Correct what’s going on in the pelvis and lower back and improving your upper body posture will be much easier.
A huge portion of the patients I see at Ascent Chiropractic have some degree of this ‘forward head posture’, characterized by a hunched upper back with slumped shoulders and a flattened neck curve that makes the head jut forward. A 2014 study on anterior head carriage found that when you hold your head in line with your shoulders it only weighs about 10 pounds. But for every inch you tilt it forward, the amount of weight it places on your spine nearly doubles.
This leads to muscle tension in the trapezius and the levator scapulae muscles as your body compensates for the extra stress on your spine. Those tight shoulder and neck muscles everyone’s always complaining about? This is what we’re talking about.
If you’re a patient at Ascent Chiropractic, you’ve probably heard me say that your body isn’t dumb; if your body is making muscles tight, there’s probably a reason for it!
The ‘shortened’ muscles in this scenario are usually the pec minor, SCM and scalene muscles. The ‘lengthened’, or stretched out muscles, are the rhomboids, lats, mid and lower traps, and the thoracic extensors.
The mistake people make is thinking they need to ‘loosen up’ the trapezius and levator scapulae. In fact, stretching them will only make the matter worse! The trick is to reshape the thoracic spine back into its natural curve, and to get the head into a more neutral position – balanced on top of the shoulders, spine and pelvis.
How Do We Fix It?
1.) Improve thoracic spine mobility. The spine consists of 3 areas – lumbar, thoracic and cervical. The thoracic spine is built for mobility, while the cervical and lumbar regions are built for stability. Using a foam roller for mid-back myofascial release 3-5 minutes per day works well for this:
The cat-cow also works well for improving thoracic mobility:
2.) Stretch your pec muscles. Stretching them with your shoulder and elbow both at 90º against a doorway or wall works best:
You can also incorporate the Blackburn stretches:
3) Work on scapular retraction and depression. The best bet for both would be wall angels – they also open up the anterior shoulder. Don’t worry about keeping your hands perfectly flat to the wall, the main goal is to get the elbows as low as possible without overarching the lower back. If you do it right, you’ll feel it the next day. Try 3 sets of 5 per day:
4.) Work on strengthening your deep neck flexors. The best exercise is the head retraction or chin tuck, and it can be done anywhere, without any special equipment. Imagine making a double chin:
5.) Strengthen your rhomboids and lats. I suggest using therabands and doing 3 sets of 10 lat pulldowns and rows daily:
6.) Stop doing crunches and sit-ups! I’ve already written about how sit-ups and crunches are awful for your lower back, but they’re bad for your neck and upper back posture as well. If your neck is already stuck in a flexed position, we don’t need more exercises to reinforce that posture. Do planks and bird-dogs instead:
Planning Your Workouts
For a general workout program, prioritize front squats over back squats and keep your workout splits at a 2:1 pull:push ratio or even a 3:1 pull:push ratio until your posture is corrected.
Remember that this is just a very small part of your day, and if you’re stuck in ‘computer guy’ mode the rest of the day take steps to correct it now — you’ll be glad you did later on.
The Big Picture
This is a great start to correcting forward head posture on your own, but studies have shown that the most reliable way to stabilize your spine long-term is through a combination of both targeted stetching and exercise along with chiropractic care.
Need a chiropractor in Brookfield? At Ascent Chiropractic we correct problems in the spine using low-force chiropractic techniques combined with the best of myofascial therapy to get results that are unmatched anywhere. If you’re in the Brookfield, Waukesha, Wauwatosa, New Berlin or Milwaukee areas and suffering from the effects of bad posture, we’d love to help you get started with chiropractic care. Make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield by calling 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.