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Often times we attribute recurrent headaches, migraines, neck pain and stiffness to tension or stress. There is a veritable contributing factor which may be sitting in your pocket, purse or among the possessions you are currently holding while reading this article. If you spend much time bending your head forward to be able to text or go online on your cell phone, tablet computer device, touch-screen portable music device, electronic book reader or a laptop you could be shaping your neck for a painful future.
Prolonged repetitive forward head motion combined with poor ergonomic posture can strain muscles, tendons and ligaments in your neck causing the body to create an abnormal neck curve known as Forward Head Posture (FHP). Forward Head Posture can be recognized when viewing your posture from the side. Ideally, the head should sit directly on the neck and shoulders, like a golf ball sits on a tee creating a 30 degree curve in the neck. When drawing a line straight down from the center of your ear, your ear should sit directly over your shoulder. If you have FHP, the positioning of the ear will sit in front of the shoulder, rather than sitting directly over it. As the head moves forward shifting the Center of Gravity, the upper part of the back drifts backwards to compensate for this shift which causes the hips to tilt forward thereby creating mid back and low back problems as well.
FHP is a major problem and silent contributor which many medical establishments overlook when patients complain of recurrent headaches, cluster or migraine headaches as well as persistent neck pain. This forward slumping of the neck also causes undue strain and tightening of chest, neck and the muscles connecting the head to the neck. Many studies have shown that as the neck vertebrae are pulled forward, added pressure is placed on the brainstem, spinal cord as well as the nerves exiting your spine leading to the brain and other areas.
FHP is not a momentary condition sustained only when using necessary modern technology. The repetition and prolonged posture change actually trains your neck to stay in a forward position. As gravity takes it’s toll the forward head movement continues to worsen. Sadly, in our practice we are finding more and more patients with 1.5 to 2 inches of forward head placement and we are finding it more and more in teenagers and children. When spinal tissues are subject to a significant load for a sustained period of time, they deform and undergo remodeling changes that could become permanent. In addition, FHP has been shown to flatten the normal neck curve, resulting in disc compression, damage and early arthritis. (Gore DR, Sepic SB, Gardner GM. Roentgenographic findings of the cervical spine in asymptomatic People. Spine 1986)
Would you be surprised that your neck and shoulders hurt if you had a 20-pound watermelon hanging around your neck? For every inch your head moves forwards, it gains 10 pounds in weight, as far as the muscles in your upper back and neck are concerned, because they have to work that much harder to keep the head (chin) from dropping onto your chest. This also forces the suboccipital muscles (they raise the chin) to remain in constant contraction, putting pressure on the 3 Suboccipital nerves. This nerve compression may cause headaches at the base of the skull. Pressure on the suboccipital nerves can also mimic sinus (frontal) headaches. (Ibrahim Adalbert Kapandji - Physiology of the Joints, Volume III) Since the neck and shoulders have to carry this weight all day in constant contraction, neck muscles loose blood , get damaged, fatigue, strain, cause pain, burning and can lead to other issues such as fibromyalgia.
Dr. Alf Breig, Neurosurgeon (Nobel Prize Recipient) in his book Adverse Mechanical Tension in the Central Nervous System described in much detail how nerve roots, the hind-brain and cranial nerves are adversely affected through this abnormal tension. Dr. Brieg and many others since have found that the loss of the normal neck curve puts an abnormal stretch not only on the cervical portion of the spinal cord but on the entire spinal cord as a whole. “Loss of the cervical curve stretches the spinal cord 5-7 cm and causes Disease.”
Well, you can’t stop using modern technology, but you can improve and correct FHP. Be aware of your head positioning while using these devices. Lift your elbows, put a pillow under your tablet or drop your seat when at the computer. Chiropractic can be very corrective, especially in the hands of a chiropractor who specializes in Chiropractic Bio Physics. At A Better Life Chiropractic, our specialty is in reversing FHP before the complications of arthritis and fusing have time to cause permanent damage.
Lift your arms when using a mobile device instead of forcing your neck to stoop down.
Watch your posture at a computer. Don't slouch.