The Consequences of Forward Head Posture

Forward head posture, or anterior head carriage, may not seem like a big deal to you.  However, this can lead to significant degeneration of the spine and create muscle imbalances that precipitate chronic pain.  The big problem is that this is occurring at younger and younger ages because of our daily activities that promote this poor posture.  Things such as computer work, texting, video games, and carrying backpacks that are too heavy or poor fitting can all lead to this forward head posture.  Poor posture leads to soft tissue trauma…just the same as an accident or other traumatic injury would lead to.  For this reason, part of any neuromuscular rehabilitation process must include proper assessment of, and treatment for, poor posture.

In the July 2010 issue of To Your Health magazine, Dr. Dean Fishman provides 7 fast facts in regards to negative consequences of maintaining this forward head posture.  I would like to share them with you.

(1) Long-term forward neck posture leads to “long-term muscle strain, disc herniations and pinched nerves.” (Mayo Clinic Health Letter, March 2000).

(2) In regard to respiratory dysfunction in chronic neck pain patients, a recent study “demonstrated a strong association between an increased forward head posture and decreased respiratory muscle strength in neck patients.” (Cephalgia, February 2009).

(3) “For every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” (Kapandji, Physiology of the Joints, Volume 3).

(4) “Loss of the cervical curve stretches the spinal cord 5-7 cm and causes disease.” (Dr. Alf Breig, neurosurgeon and Nobel Prize recipient).

(5) “90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine,” says Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize recipient for brain research.  Dr. Sperry demonstrated that 90% of the energy output of the brain is used in relating the physical body to gravity.  Only 10% has to do with thinking, metabolism, and healing, so when you have forward head posture, your brain will rob energy from your thinking, metabolism, and immune function to deal with abnormal gravity/posture relationships and processing.

(6) According to Rene Cailliet, MD, director of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Southern California, forward head posture (FHP) can add up to 30 pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine.  This can pull the entire spine out of alignment.  FHP results in loss of vital capacity of the lungs by as much as 30%.  This shortness of breath can lead to heart and blood vascular disease.  The entire gastrointestinal system is affected; particularly the large intestine.  Loss of good bowel peristaltic function and evacuation is a common effect of FHP.  It causes an increase in discomfort and pain because proprioceptive signals from the first four cervical vertebrae are a major source of the stimuli which create the body’s pain controlling chemicals (endorphins).  With inadequate endorphin production, many otherwise non-painful sensations are experienced as pain.  FHP dramatically reduces endorphin production.

(7) FHP has been shown to flatten the normal neck curve, resulting in disc compression, damage and early arthritis. (Spine, 1986).

This summary presents some good information to consider in our journey of improving our posture.  You will not restore, regain, or normalize your posture over night and it will take daily work that is committed to improving and maintaining your posture.  For our body to function properly we must remove the areas of dys-function and posture proves to be an important starting point.

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