SPINAL ALIGNMENT IS IMPORTANT FOR NECK AND UPPER BACK COMFORT by Janice Novak, M.S., Author of Posture, Get It Straight! ImproveYourPosture.com
Get Your Head Straight
Have you ever caught your reflection in a window or mirror and noticed that your head was leading the way? A head that hangs forward is the most common posture/spinal misalignment problem and the source of much pain and discomfort. Neck misalignment can exaggerated by many everyday activities, including reading books and newspapers, wearing bifocals, talking on the phone, watching television in bed, working at a computer, and leaning over a desk.
A Real Troublemaker
A head that hangs forward is the most widespread posture/spinal misalignment problem, and one that causes far more problems than you might think. The reason is that a head is heavy. The average human head weights 10 to 14 pounds, the same as a bowling ball. It’s supposed to rest directly over the shoulders in the body’s center of gravity. When it hangs forward even slightly it is no longer in the center of gravity, and the muscles in the neck and upper back have to work hard all the time just to hold your head up. Every half inch that your head is held in front of your shoulders puts an additional twenty pounds of strain on those muscles. This starts a chain reaction.
Most of the work is done by the upper part of the trapezius muscle, a large, diamond-shaped muscle that runs from the base of the skull out to the shoulders and down to the middle back. When the head hangs forward, the upper traps are constantly under tension to hold that heavy load. Over time, they become very thick and tight. When touched, they feel like cement. This causes stiffness and pain in the neck and upper back.
Because the upper trap is continually contracting, the nerves that pass between the neck bones to serve the arms and upper body get squeezed. The result can be neck pain, numbness or tingling in the arms and hands, or tension headaches. (Tension headaches, the most common type of headache, are often suffered by people whose work requires them to bend or lean forward, such as assembly-line workers, hairdressers, and dentists and dental hygienists.)
While the upper section of the traps become overdeveloped, the middle and lower parts weaken because they don’t have to work at all. The imbalance causes tremendous discomfort in the upper and middle back.
The splenius cervicus, long, think muscles that run between the skull and middle back, become stressed and strained and are often felt as “hot spots” between the shoulder blades.
When your head hangs forward, unless you want to look at the floor all day, you have to lift your face by arching your neck. This puts pressure on the cartilage, disks, and joints of the neck. Over time, it increases the chance of “wear-and-tear” arthritis. The constant compression of the disks, nerves, and joints also reduces the flow of blood to the area, cutting down on the oxygen and nutrients that reach the tissues.
The forward head posture is a major contributor to temporo-mandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which causes pain or clicking noises when you open and close your jaw. TMJ occurs when the hinged joint that connects the lower jawbone to the skull, and the supporting muscles, become inflamed or injured. When the head and jaw are thrust forward, as in the forward-head position, gravity pulls on the jaw and eventually the joint doesn’t fit together properly. TMJ can be relieved by realigning the head over the shoulders and relaxing the neck muscles.
Forward head posture can lead to tension headaches, neck pain and stiffness, osteoarthritis in the neck and even bone spurs.
EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THIS:
Reading books/newspapers sewing/knitting
Working at a computer crafting/scrapbooking
Working at a desk cooking
Washing dishes driving
Watching television raking/shoveling
Centering Your Head Over Your Shoulders
Once you’re aware of the head-forward problem, it’s not difficult to correct. It just takes some attention. Lifting the front of your rib cage slightly not only begins to straighten the upper back, this little movement also moves your head back closer to your body’s center of gravity. From a side view your ear and shoulder should be in a straight line. When you re-position your ribcage, you dramatically change what goes on in your neck joints. They fit together the way they are supposed to once again. It will also take immediate tension off your upper back and neck muscles. The following exercise will help re-train your neck muscles and joints. Whenever you think of it throughout the day, gently pull your head back over your shoulders.
1. Brings the head back to the center of gravity; greatly relieves neck strain.
2. While standing or sitting, lift the front of your rib cage and simply pull your head back over the middle of your shoulders. Think of trying to touch an imaginary wall with the back of your neck. Don’t tip your head back.
3. Hold for ten seconds. Do this many times throughout the day.
Putting Your Head in Its Place
1. Do this whenever you catch yourself with your head hanging forward; for example, whenever you catch yourself leaning over a desk, computer, or reading material.
2. Sit in a chair, but don’t rest against the back. Lift your rib cage up. Pull your belly button toward your spine.
3. Stick your chin forward then gently pull back your head and neck. Don’t tip your head back or arch your neck. Instead, pretend you’re trying to touch the back of your neck to an imaginary wall behind you.
4. Keeping your head high, feel the back of your neck gently stretch, and your upper back flatten.
5. Push down on your knees with your hands to help your back become as erect as possible. Hold for five seconds. Repeat several times.
Neck GLIDE WITH RESISTANCE
1. Slide your bottom all the way to the back of the chair seat. Lift your rib cage up. Pull your belly button toward your spine.
2. Place your hands at the back of your head.
3. Gently, press the back of your head into your hands, using your hands as resistance.
4. Hold for 3-5 seconds then relax and repeat.