The most common form of physical stress I have seen over the years is from poor posture. When you have proper postural alignment there is minimal amounts of stress or strain on the body's muscles and ligaments. When the bones and joints are aligned correctly, the muscles work in conjunction with one another.
In normal posture, your head, rib cage and pelvis are aligned and balanced over your feet. Your ears should be in line with your shoulders and the center of your eyes should line up with the center of your body. The bumps called spinous processes along your spine should be in a straight line.
When posture is incorrect, some muscles overcompensate to support the body's posture and experience additional strain while the underutilized muscles become weak.
The most common postural stress is Forward Head Posture (FHP).
What is Forward Head Posture [FHP]? FHP is created when there is a loss of the normal neck curve. A normal neck should have a C-shape curve to the which acts like a spring for your head to sit on. As your head starts to sit more forward on the neck, you begin to lose that spring effect which increases the stress placed on the joints, muscles, ligaments and discs of the neck. This added stress, along with normal daily neck stresses, can cause irritation or pinching of the nerves. For every inch of forward head tilt, there is an increase in 10 lbs. of pressure on the neck!
What causes FHP?
Not engaging muscles when you stand, poor workstation set up, prolonged looking down, auto accidents, falls and other trauma to the head and neck. Also, poor pillow support and sleeping positions can effect the normal alignment of the neck. I am seeing more and more issues with FHP in children. As the use of texting, video games and computers became more and more popular, so does the increase in FHP cases at an early age. If detected early, FHP can be easily corrected.
What are the common symptoms?
The nerves in the neck control the eyes, ears, nose, throat, sinuses, heart and thyroid, as well as, the muscles of the head, neck, face, shoulders, arms and hands. Because of this relationship, there are a vast amounts of symptoms that can occur when the nerves are pinched in the neck. Headaches, migraines, neck pain, shoulder pain, mid back pain, stiff neck, loss of motion, carpal tunnel syndrome, numbness/tingling in the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, loss of sleep, and breathing problems. Chronic FHP often leads to arthritis, degeneration, bulging discs and loss of strength in the neck and arms.
So, what are some things you can do to help correct and prevent FHP?
Be aware what normal posture feels like. Stand in front of a mirror and practice standing correctly. It will most likely feel awkward of uncomfortable at first, but once your muscles get stronger, it will feel more normal.
Have your alignment checked by a chiropractor. If the vertebrae in the spine are out of their normal position, it’s impossible to be able to stand straight and hold the correct posture.
There are many exercises to strengthen the postural muscles that will help you maintain the proper alignment of the spine. Here is a good one: Interlock your hands behind your back. Try and straighten out your elbows if you can. Now, look up at the ceiling as you try and lift your straight arms up squeezing your shoulder blades together. Take a couple of breaths while you hold this posture. Then release. Repeat 2-3 times throughout your day.
Keeping your spine aligned and flexible as well as keeping your muscles strong is the best way to correct and prevent the long term effects of FHP.
To your health,
Dr. Dave Tuck