The Technological Age is wreaking havoc on our health, habits, and posture.
Whether you’re standing, walking, or sitting, chances are you’re staring down at your mobile device.
But did you know that this habit can result in forward head posture?
Yep, it’s true. Forward head posture (FHP) is a common postural misalignment caused by the head jutting forward in relation to the rest of the body.
Not only does FHP negatively impact your appearance, but it can also lead to other serious health problems.
Think discomfort and pain in the back of the neck, shoulders, and even nerve impingement.
But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we will dive deep into what forward head posture is, how it develops, and most importantly, what you can do to prevent it.
We’ll even provide you with a few simple exercises and stretches you can do at home to correct the postural problems contributing to FHP.
What Is forward head posture?
Forward head posture is a common postural issue that occurs when the head and neck jut forward from the body’s natural alignment.
Proper posture involves aligning the ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in a straight line.
In forward head posture, the ears are not in line with the rest of the body.
What causes forward head posture?
In most cases, forward head posture occurs due to kyphosis, where the upper back and shoulders round forward.
This usually happens because of poor posture over a long period, causing the chest, neck, and shoulder muscles to tighten and shorten while the upper back muscles lengthen and weaken.
To understand why the head moves forward in this posture, think of a bowling ball balanced on top of a long, bendable metal pole.
If you bend the pole slightly, the ball will weigh down and cause the pole to bend even more.
Over time, the pole will bend further, just like what happens in forward head posture.
When we look down at our phones or hunch in front of our computer screens, our head acts as a bowling ball, and our spine is the pole.
The human head weighs 10-11 pounds on average; continuously holding it in a forward position will only make things worse over time.
People who work at a desk for extended periods, use smartphones or play video games are particularly prone to forward head posture.
Symptoms of forward head posture
In the short-term, forward head posture can lead to chronic or reoccurring neck pain, joint stiffness, shoulder pain, and upper back pain.
Forward head posture may also cause chronic tension headaches due to the tightness of the suboccipital muscles, which connect the top of the neck to the base of the skull.
Other common symptoms associated with forward head posture are:
- Decreased range of motion
- Rounded shoulders
- Myofascial trigger points and pain
- Reduced lung capacity
- Tingling in the hands, arms, and fingers
If left untreated, the excess stress placed on the spinal column due to forward head posture can contribute to even more serious conditions such as disc herniation, degenerative joint disease, nerve impingement, and osteoporosis.
How to fix forward head posture
Research has shown that performing neck exercises and stretches can effectively correct forward head posture by targeting specific muscles.
To address muscle imbalances caused by holding the neck in a forward position, it’s important to focus on strengthening weakened muscles such as the upper trapezius, levator scapulae, and latissimus dorsi, while stretching tight muscles like the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and neck flexors.
Specifically, the neck extensors and suboccipital muscles located at the back of the neck become tight. At the same time, the sternocleidomastoideus muscle at the side of the neck also tightens, pulling the head forward.
Meanwhile, the deep cervical flexors on either side of the throat and responsible for holding the head up, become weak due to lack of use in a forward head position.
Studies have shown that it’s crucial to address these imbalances by stretching the tight muscles and strengthening the weakened ones to fix forward head posture.
Stretches and exercises to fix forward head posture
In this section, we’ll provide a few simple exercises and stretches that can be performed at home.
Here’s how the sections will be broken up.
- Massage tight neck muscles
- Stretch tight neck muscles
- Strengthen weak neck muscles
- Stretch tight chest muscles
- Strengthen weak back
1. Self massage tight neck muscles (SCM)
The first step is to release the tightness in the Sternocleidomastoideus (SCM) muscle through self-massage.
- Locate the muscle. It’s located just behind your ear, around the earlobe, and runs down the front of your neck.
- Squeeze the muscle near the top. It should feel thick and then get thinner as you run down it.
- Use your fingers to apply some pressure and run them up and down the muscle a few times.
- Next, make tiny circles with your fingers on the muscle and move down to the base of your neck.
- Repeat the circular motion for a minute or so.
If you need more release, you can always use a massage ball instead of your fingers.
2. Massage the back of the neck
The next step is to massage the muscle that runs down either side of the back of the neck.
You can get someone else to massage it or use a massage ball, but the most effective way is usually by using a peanut massage ball.
To massage the back of your neck:
- Lie down on your back.
- Place the peanut just behind your neck and gently lower the back of your neck onto it.
- Slowly roll up to the top of your neck and back to the top of your shoulder blades. You can lift up your hips to increase pressure, but be careful not to put too much pressure on the neck.
3. Stretch the neck
Stretching your neck is a good way to deal with the tightness accompanying forward head posture.
Generally, you want to target the sides and back (Scalenes, Suboccipital, Sternocleidomastoideus) of your neck.
The scalenes are the neck muscles at the front of your neck. You will need to stretch each side separately.
Here’s how to stretch the left side:
- Look straight ahead and get in a comfortable position. You can be standing or sitting.
- Gently tilt your head towards the right shoulder until you feel comfortable. This will initiate a stretch in some of your neck muscles.
- Once you reach the maximum tilt towards the right, gradually rotate your head towards the left, so that you can see over your left shoulder. Pause here for a moment.
- Raise your chin slightly or tilt your head upward to stretch the front part of your neck, specifically the anterior scalenes on the left side.
- Hold this position for around 30 seconds.
- Once this side is complete, repeat on the other side (the right).
The suboccipital muscles are a group of muscles located at the base of the skull, between the skull and the top two vertebrae of the neck.
Here are some ways to stretch the suboccipital muscles:
- Make sure your chin is tucked in. Use your fingers from one hand to tuck your chin in towards your chest.
- With your other hand, place it on the back of your head and gently apply pressure downwards while pulling your head towards your chest.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch at the back of your neck.
- Repeat the stretch as many times as needed.
Sternocleidomastoideus (SCM) stretch
The Sternocleidomastoideus (SCM) is the muscle we’ve already loosened up; now it’s time to stretch it.
The SCM stretch is most effective when seated. Here’s how to stretch the SCM:
- Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed and lowered.
- Slowly tilt your head to the right, as if trying to touch your right ear to your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch on the left side of your neck.
- Apply gentle pressure with your right hand to the left side of your head to deepen the stretch.
- Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.
- Return your head to the center.
- Repeat the same stretch on the left side, tilting your head to the left and applying pressure with your left hand to the right side of your head.
4. Wall lean exercise
The Wall Lean Exercise will help strengthen the front of the neck to push your head back:
- Stand up straight with your back against a wall.
- Keep your chin tucked in and in line with your spine, and ensure the back of your head is touching the wall while you’re looking straight ahead.
- Keeping your neck long, take a step away from the wall, but keep the back of your head against it. Only the back of your head should be touching the wall, not your shoulders.
- Hold this position while keeping your feet hip-width apart and your chin tucked in.
You can also do this exercise on the floor (instructions below).
- Lay on your back with your knees bent.
- Tuck your chin close to your chest, then push your head into the ground.
- Try to push your neck into the floor whilst holding the position. Don’t push too hard.
- Consciously think about the muscle in the front of your throat and making sure they are being activated. You may not feel it at first but learn to notice it.
5. Chin tucks
If you don’t want to do the wall lean exercise mentioned earlier, you can try another exercise called the chin tuck. It’s a great way to improve your posture and reduce neck pain.
The chin tuck targets two muscle groups: the tight scalene and suboccipital muscles, which are stretched, and the upper thoracic extensors, which are strengthened.
Here’s how you do it:
- Stand up straight and place one finger on your chin.
- Tuck your chin down towards your chest.
- Use your finger to gently push your head backwards.
- Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Release and repeat the exercise 10 times for the best results.
7. Chest stretch
People with forward head posture will almost always have a problem with rounded shoulders too, resulting from tight pectorals.
This exercise helps stretch tight chest and shoulder muscles, thus improving your overall posture and relieving pressure on the cervical spine.
Here’s how to perform this simple yet effective stretch.
- Start with your hands on either side of a doorway.
- Lunge forward until you feel a stretch across the chest and shoulders.
- Keep your shoulder joint sturdy and in its socket as much as possible.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat this exercise 3 times.
If your pecs are particularly tight you may also need to release the pecs using self-massage.
Related: How to stretch the pecs
8. Prone cobra exercise
Doing the wall lean exercises daily will help with your forward head posture, but you can also add the prone cobra exercise to your routine to help strengthen your upper back.
To perform the prone cobra exercise:
- Lie face down on a flat surface with your arms at your sides and your palms facing down.
- Engage your core and glutes to lift your chest and legs off the ground, keeping your neck in a neutral position.
- Hold the position for a few seconds, then lower back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for 10-15 repetitions or as many as you can comfortably do.
- As you get stronger, you can increase the length of time you hold the position or the number of repetitions you do.
Your forward head posture didn’t happen overnight but probably developed over years of bad habits.
This means you are likely to have to continue to do these exercises consistently for a long time before you see any improvements.
Consistency is key, but don’t worry; your body is adaptable and can respond positively to exercises that target your weaknesses.
However, it’s important to avoid reinforcing bad posture habits at the same time, like putting your head in a compromised position.
Try these easy tips:
- Keep your head in line with your shoulders
- Adjust your computer monitor or book to eye level
- Take frequent breaks and stretch every hour
- Use lumbar support when sitting
- Hold your phone higher and use it less
- Address other posture issues, like rounded shoulders and Thoracic Kyphosis (rounded upper back)
- Consider upgrading your neck pillow by using a thinner pillow or orthopaedic pillow
Fixing forward head posture can lead to a better mood and overall happiness. The extra effort to do these exercises and prevention techniques will be well worth it if you stick to them.
Remember, these exercises aren’t a replacement for professional medical treatment.
If you experience persistent pain, consult your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions.