Forward head posture (aka forward neck posture) is an extremely common condition that I see in my practice on a daily basis.
Patients often come to me complaining of persistent neck and upper back pain, along with tension-type headaches, and upon examination, the majority of them have this postural deformity.
The good news is with a few simple exercises, posture awareness and workstation modifications and you can start correcting this posture!
It’s simple – do a little test…
- Stand with your back towards a wall with your heels positioned shoulder width apart
- Press your buttocks against the wall and ensure that your shoulder blades are in contact with the wall.
**Squeezing your shoulder blades together can help you get your shoulders into a more neutral position and aligned with the wall.
- Now, check your head position – is the back of your head touching the wall?
- If it’s not, you have forward head posture and should do your best to correct it.
What is Forward Head/Neck Posture?
Forward head posture, sometimes called “Scholar’s Neck”, “Text Neck”, “Wearsie Neck”,”or “Reading Neck”, refers to a posture where the head appears to be positioned in front of the body.
Technically speaking, forward head posture means that the skull is leaning forwards, more than an inch, over the atlas (which is the first vertebrae in your neck).
Forward head posture is considered to be the most common postural deformity, affecting between 66% and 90% of the population.
So what’s the problem with this posture? A lot, and it’s pretty complicated.
It doesn’t stop there… forward head posture doesn’t just affect the neck and shoulders; the center of gravity of your entire body is also altered, which affects your torso and every joint in your body.
Your body tries to adapt to these positional changes be altering the balance control mechanisms of the body, which actually decreases your ability to balance when engaging in different activities throughout the day, and increases your risk of injury.
Forward Head Posture Symptoms:
- Muscle tightness
- Kyphosis (Excessive rounded shoulders)
- Neck tightness/pain
- Back pain
- Muscle spasms
- Restricted breathing
- Headaches and migraines
- Sleep apnea
- Chronic fatigue
- Numbness and tingling of the arms and hands
- Temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) pain
FHP Can Lead To:
- Osteoporosis (and related fractures)
- Poor shoulder mobility
- Cervical (Neck) spine arthritis
- Shoulder blade pain
- Bulging Discs
- Herniated Discs
What causes Forward Head Posture?
Forward head posture is the result of a variety of factors, including:
- In 2 words: “poor posture”
- Weakness of your neck muscles
- Previous neck strains or sprains
- Sleeping with your head elevated too high on pillows
- Frequently sleeping on a sofa with your head propped on the arm rest
- Extended computer use
- Extended cellphone use (“text neck”)
- Prolonged driving
- Incorrect breathing habits
- Carrying heavy backpacks
- Participating in sports that involve the dominant use of one side of the body (i.e. golf, tennis, hockey, baseball, etc.)
- Certain professions are more at risk due to repetitive movements of the body (i.e. hair stylists, massage therapists, writers, computer programmers, painters, etc.)
Forward head posture involves an imbalance of muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
5 Great Forward Head Posture Exercises
Practicing good posture while performing your daily activities, combined with stretching and strengthening the muscles involved in forward head posture, can put you on the right path towards correcting this postural abnormality.
1. Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) Self Massage
This will release the SCM (Sternocleidomastoid) muscle, which tends to be overactive on most individuals.
- Begin in either a standing or seated position.
- Locate your SCM (there is one on each side of your neck that runs from behind your ear to approximately the middle of your throat and connects to your collarbone – in a “V” pattern- and it will feel like a tight band of muscle).
**You may find it helpful to turn your head in the opposite direction to find your SCM (i.e. turn your head to the right to locate your left SCM).
- Once you locate the SCM, gently massage it by pinching it or pressing into it with your fingers.
- Make sure to go up and down the whole length of the muscle.
- Aim to massage the muscle for about 1 minute on each side of your neck.
** Avoid pressing too deep or you might hit other tender neck structures.
** Avoid rubbing on any pulsating areas as these are blood vessels in the neck.
2. Neck Flexion (Suboccipital Stretch)
This will stretch the back of your neck muscles including the Suboccipital muscles.
- First, tuck your chin in using 2 fingers of one hand.
- Place your other hand on the back of your head and apply a gentle force down as you pull your head towards your chest.
- When you feel a stretch at the back of your neck, hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat this stretch 3 times.
** Keep your chin tucked as you do this stretch.
3. Chin Tucks Exercise
This exercise will activate and strengthen your deep cervical muscles (front of the neck muscles).
- Place 2 fingers at the bottom of your chin.
- Gently tuck your chin in and retract your head backwards. At the same time, use your fingers to keep the chin tucked in the entire time.
- Hold the end position for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Relax your neck for a moment (Let the neck come fwd).
- Aim for 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
** Your eyes should stay level and you should feel like the back of your neck is lengthening or “pulling up”.
4. Shoulder Blade Squeeze (aka Brugger’s Relief Position)
This exercise will activate and strengthen your low and mid back muscles including Low and Mid Trapezius.
– Position your feet and knees slightly wider than your hips and slightly rotated outwards.
– Maintain a chin tuck and raise your chest up, allowing your spine to be in a neutral position.
– Rest both of your arms down by your sides.
– Now bring your arms back and externally rotate them so that your thumbs are pointing backwards.
– Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and release.
– Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
* Breathe normally as you do these reps.
5. Mid Scalene & Upper Trapezius Stretch
This will stretch out the neck and upper back muscles (Scalene & Upper Trapezius) which get very tight on individuals with this forward neck syndrome.
– Start either in a standing or seated position.
– Place one of your hands on the opposite side of your head.
– Now bring the head down towards your ear.
– Use the hand overhead to press your neck down – to get a deeper stretch (Not too hard).
– Hold for 20-30 seconds and do 2-3 sets.
Get More Details & Exercises In This Video:
Lastly, Proper Ergonomics
If you sit at a computer for extended periods of time, the single most important thing you can do to improve your workstation is to ensure that your computer monitor is positioned properly to allow your neck to remain in a neutral and relaxed position while you work.
- Ensure that the top third of your screen is at eye level
- Your monitor should be between 18 and 24 inches away from your face
**An improperly placed monitor results in straining of your neck and even slouching forward, which will contribute to your forward head position.
Any questions? Leave a comment below
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Licensed chiropractor, DC (Owner of Forme Clinic, Stoney Creek, ON, L8G 1B9)
Dr. Shaina McQuilkie graduated from Brock University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Kinesiology (Honours). She then attended D’Youville College, in Buffalo, New York and obtained her Doctorate of Chiropractic Degree in 2008. After graduating, Dr. McQuilkie practiced in a multi-disciplinary healthcare facility based in Hamilton, Ontario gaining experience treating a variety of musculoskeletal injuries.