One of the most common postural concerns that we see in people is what is termed forward head carriage. When we look at posture, we assess how the head lines up relative to the shoulders. Just like in golf, if the ball (our head) isn’t directly in the middle of the tee (our neck) forward momentum is generated as the weight is not centred over its base of support.
Consequences of having a forward head carriage
Sore and stiff muscles
When we have our head in a neutral position, it weighs approximately between 4.5-5kg. When our posture changes and our head moves forward, the strain on the neck muscles increases significantly and the head can put pressure on these muscles equivalent of up to 20kg of weight! The most common consequences of forward head carriage are stiffness of the neck, tight and sore muscles, and headaches. However the consequences of forward head carriage extend far beyond the neck itself.
When we move our head forward we automatically change the curves throughout the spine. The most common change seen is an increase in the upper back curve which changes the position of our ribs. When our upper back curve increases, our shoulder blades (which sit on the rib cage) are tilted and rounded forward. Over time this can cause irritation to the delicate structures around the shoulder, in particular the rotator cuff muscles.
This increased rounding of the upper back and shoulders also impacts on our breathing as our lungs are not able to completely expand as they need. This means that the air we inhale often doesn’t reach the base of the lungs. To see how this happens, try hunching forward and taking a deep breath. Now sit up tall and repeat the deep breath. There is a significant change in the amount of air that is able to enter the lungs in each position.
As we shift our head forward, we change our centre of mass to in front of our feet. This means that all the muscles that run up the back of the legs and trunk area have to work overtime to prevent us from tumbling forward.
DIt is important to realise that the body is one connected structure and that a change in one area, so easily impacts on the rest of the body. The next time you think about your posture, just remember all of the other areas that you could be affecting with something as simple as your head position