Quick—what part of the body to you think of when you hear the word posture? My guess is most people associate posture with a straight back. Truly good posture needs a perfectly choreographed interaction of the musculoskeletal system: the pelvis directly right over the legs; ribs over the pelvis; and head over the ribs with the ears lined up over the shoulders. In other words, you can have a ramrod straight back and squared shoulders and still have bad posture if your head isn’t in correct alignment.
Chiropractors report that forward head posture can be result in a myriad of ailments including headaches, jaw pain, and neck, shoulder, and back pain. Blame modern life for our bad posture. Many people spend their days at a desk writing or looking at a computer screen, both of which tend to draw our heads forward. Then when we go home we plop onto the couch or into our favorite chair and immediately slump down, which curves our upper back and pulls our head forward.
Considering that most people spend more time sitting than standing, maintaining proper posture becomes that much more challenging as our habits become ingrained. The danger is more than a matter of aesthetics. If we constantly hold a particular posture for too long we can start losing our full range of motion. Research shows that every inch that the head’s center of gravity is shifted forward, the lower cervical spine is subjected to compressive forces equivalent to a one-time additional weight of the head.
In other words – since heads generally weigh between 12 and 20 pounds – if a person’s head is three inches forward, that puts between 36 and 60 pounds of extra pressure on the lower cervical spine (your neck). That can lead to a sore and stiff neck as well as headaches. It also disrupts proper blood flow to the neck muscles, leading to pain. As time passes, the pain can move down the body as more muscles becomes affected. When one set of muscles tighten under the strain, their opposites lengthen and weaken.
Our balance can also be impacted. If the head is forward, the ribs are generally angled back while the pelvis will often be tilted forward. This can cause lower back pain and issues with hips and legs as well. Improper alignment of the head is also associated with dizziness, TMJ, snoring, and some suspect even sleep apnea.
Creating an ergonomically correct work environment has important health ramifications. Computer monitors should be eye level and the ankles and hips should be at 90 degree angles. Also, your chiropractor can design a stretching and strengthening program to bring your body back into alignment.