Remember when your mother told you to sit up straight? She was right! Poor posture leads to many problems in the head, neck, and back due to the undue stress it can place on the muscles and joints throughout your body.
One of the most common postures seen in people of all ages is the “forward” head. There are many reasons people fall into this posture in day to day life, and one of the most common can be attributed to our increased reliance on electronics during our work and personal lives. With many jobs requiring prolonged use of computers, smart phones for texting and emailing, and the recent boom of social media for business and personal use, many people find themselves constantly leaning forward to get a better look at their devices. This posture can be damaging to your body for several reasons.
Spending long periods of time with a forward head posture can cause muscle imbalances in the neck and back that do not occur naturally. The human head typically weighs between 12-15 lbs, and while this may not seem like a lot, if this load is not properly distributed over the spine it can cause a great strain on all of the muscles, ligaments, and joints in the neck and back. As the head slides forward past the shoulders, the muscles in the back of your neck work harder than normal to try to keep the head aligned properly, and can become stretched and fatigued due to this elongated position. As this posture becomes a habit, the muscles in the back of the neck can become chronically tense, which can cause vasoconstriction (decreased blood flow) to the muscles and unnecessary pressure on the different segments of the cervical spine (neck bones.) If the posture becomes bad enough, the improperly balanced weight of your head can begin to cause the lower vertebral segments of the neck to slide forward on one another, which can wear down the discs in your cervical spine prematurely and lead to more long term problems. If not corrected, these issues can even manifest themselves as nerve problems, which can cause pain, numbness, or weakness into the arms and hands.
Neck and back pain are not the only problems that can stem from poor posture. When you sit with a forward head posture, your shoulders have a tendency to round forward as well. When you combine a forward head and rounded shoulders, you compress all the structures in the front of the shoulder and place an unnecessary load on the muscles of the neck and upper back. The lengthening of these muscles between your shoulder blades can cause pain and weakness, which can lead to further imbalances in the shoulder and conditions such as rotator cuff impingement. You can also develop “trigger points” along these muscles, which are painful to the touch and can cause pain and limited range of motion with many movements of the head and neck.
So what is the solution to this long list of problems? Sitting up straight is a good start. You should also try to keep your head upright and straight when looking at your computer, and not allow your shoulders to slump forward. Make sure you are not tipping your head up to see the computer or leaning your head forward. Also, try to avoid holding the phone between your head and shoulder, as this requires tension in your neck and shoulder to support the phone. While the postural conditions we discussed can be very painful, these types of problems are often easily corrected through stretching and strengthening exercises and a variety of other techniques that can be tailored specifically to your condition. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or having pain in your neck, back, or shoulders due to poor posture, the professional staff at Crane Rehab will be happy to evaluate your condition and make specific recommendations for correcting your individual problems. This can often be done in a few sessions with just an evaluation and a custom home exercise program based on the recommendations of your physical therapist.
Jeff Smith, DPT
Jayson DeLeaumount, DPT