You may be surprised to find out that one of the main causes of neck pain and headache is inadequate posture. In this article, we’re going to tell you how posture relates to head and neck pain, and we’ll let you in on some secrets to improving your posture to reduce it.
What is Good and Bad posture?
Good posture of the head and neck is observed when the ears are in direct line with the shoulders. The chest should be vertical with the shoulders naturally positioned back. Poor posture makes it difficult to exercise and improve your muscle strength. This position, with the ears aligned above the shoulders and chest up, is called “neutral posture.” It minimizes the stress on the neck because the head is perfectly balanced.
Bad posture is seen when the head leans forward at the shoulders. This position puts stress on the spine. Here is an example. Imagine holding a 5 lb weight in your hand. If you hold it close to your chest, it is easy to carry. But, if you hold it with your arm extended in front of you and parallel to the floor, it becomes unbearably heavy in seconds. In biomechanics, this is called the long lever. The same goes for your neck. A 10 lb weight in the forward position (aka your head) is putting stress on all of the joints in your neck.
Many problems can arise from this position, such as:
- Trauma to the kinetic chain: The mechanical load puts more stress on the cervical spine. The further your head is forward, the more your body has to work. Over time, it creates chronic tension on the joints. This position trickles down the kinetic chain in your body. Eventually, this will lead to a rounded upper back and a tucked pelvis. Ever see older men walking with a cane and their head is 12 inches in front of their hips? That may be your future if you don’t take action.
- Muscle pain: The muscles can only do so much for so long before they start to send pain signals that they are not happy. Spasming is the body’s natural response to protect the spine. So, you will get tighter and tighter muscles if they are not strengthened.
- Hunched back: As mentioned before, the kinetic chain is now compromised and gravity will start to win the battle, pulling you towards the floor. Your body’s poor strength will no longer have the ability to support your head even with stronger thoracic muscles.
- Chronic tension: The neck will have chronically short muscles just below the base of the skull. These muscles are very difficult to stretch, and will become more so, leading to chronic tension and pain that is very difficult to alleviate.
The longer you maintain poor strength in the neck and back coupled with poor habits of slouching, the longer it takes to fix poor posture, and the more likely it is for neck pain and headaches to develop.
Long-term effects of anterior head carriage
If you don’t use it, you lose it. With enough time, the cumulative stress on the neck and its joints can lead to:
- Muscle unevenness: This is what people call “upper-crossed syndrome” in the realm of neck pain. Muscles in the upper neck and chest are tight as well as some of the anterior neck muscles, while the upper back and anterior neck muscles are long and weak.
- Degenerative disease of the neck: The added stress on the joints and the discs and vertebrae increases the likelihood of cervical osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine.
- Reduced range of motion: Try this: with your head over your shoulders, turn your head left and right. Now, stick your head forward as far as you can and turn your head left and right. Notice the difference in your range of motion? If you have trouble looking over your shoulder while driving. This may be one of the reasons why.