Neck pain is one of the most common complaints that drive patients to seek chiropractic care. Sometimes the cause of injury is a known traumatic event, but in many cases, neck pain is the result of wear and tear from poor posture—forward head posture in particular.
The head, which weighs 10-11 lbs. (4.5-5 kg), typically rests above the shoulders. When an individual’s head leans forward to look at a computer screen or to look downwards at their smartphone/tablet, the muscles in the rear of the neck and upper back/shoulders need to work harder to keep the head upright.
Experts estimate that for each inch (2.54 cm) of forward head posture, the head feels about 10 lbs. heavier to the muscles that attach to the back of the head and neck. To illustrate this, pick up a 10-pound object like a bowling ball and hold it close to your body. Then, hold it away from your body with your arm outstretched and feel how much heavier it seems and the strain it places on your body to maintain that position for even a short time.
In the short term, forward head posture is something the body can manage, but over time, the muscles can fatigue and the strain can injure the soft tissues in the back of the neck, shoulders, and upper back. To adapt, some muscles may become stronger (and some may atrophy), the shoulders can roll forward, the cervical curve can straighten, etc. Researchers have observed that forward head posture can also reduce neck mobility, especially with rotation and forward flexion movements. While these changes can lead to several negative health issues, neck pain is perhaps the most obvious and common.
When a patient presents for chiropractic care for neck pain, postural deficits will likely need to be addressed to achieve a satisfactory outcome. This can be achieved with manual therapies to restore proper motion in the affected joints and with exercises to retrain the muscles that may have become deconditioned. Additionally, a patient will need to develop better postural habits, especially when interacting with their electronic devices. While the process can take time, the good news is that it’s possible to reduce forward head posture, which can also lower the risk for neck pain recurrence.
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