How to prevent and correct forward head posture

The human race has made some amazing technological strides in recent years. Think about it: how many intricate electronic devices do you use in the run of a day? Chances are you wake up to an alarm each morning on your smartphone, listen to music on a tiny mp3 player at the gym, and maybe check your email from a tablet during a coffee break. You might work in a cubicle in front of a computer, or at least a decent percentage of your work day probably involves looking at a computer screen. After work, perhaps you take a bus or subway home and spend the transit time looking down at your phone; sending texts, checking social media accounts, and online window shopping. Thanks to some very talented software engineers, we are able to document every minute of our lives and have the answers to all of our questions at our fingertips.

Unfortunately, with the rise of smartphones and desk jobs in our midst, we have also seen a recent surge in the prevalence of “forward head posture”, a postural condition where the cervical spine adopts a forward-leaning misalignment and can cause mild to severe neck and upper back pain 1. It can also progress into other postural conditions such as the similar upper crossed syndrome and lower back pain. Also known as “texting neck”, forward head posture is commonly found in those with seated desk jobs, poorly designed working conditions, and excessive smartphone use 2. Luckily, forward head posture can be prevented or even corrected with therapeutic exercises and stretches that target the supportive musculature of the neck. Let’s take a closer look at what forward head posture is and get into some of the preventative and corrective measures you can take to fix it. Of course, if you are unsure or feel any pain while performing any exercise, stop and seek the advice of a healthcare professional.

Your human head weighs around 10 pounds, and when standing upright with perfect posture, it is stacked evenly over your cervical vertebrae, down your thoracic and lumbar spine, over your pelvis and finally down through your legs into the center of your feet (3). That 10 pounds of skull won’t feel all that heavy when your joints are stacked. The musculature of your neck acts like guy wires in all directions with no particular muscle group doing more work than the others at any given time (4). Now picture yourself looking down at your phone with your head tilted down and sagging forward. Your skull and vertebrae are no longer stacked, and the musculature in your neck and upper back now has to work isometric overtime to hold your head in that position (5). Over time, this will develop into a constant forward head posture. Your neck vertebrae will start to creep out on an angle so that your ears are always in front of your shoulders. The muscles in the back of your neck will lengthen and weaken and their fascia will thicken, leading to soreness and knots. The muscles in the chest and front of the neck will shorten. You may start to develop neck pain, headaches, or tingling in your hands 5. You won’t even stand as tall as you did before.

The first key to preventing forward head posture is to take inventory of your postural habits. Have someone take a picture of you sitting and standing normally. Are your ears over your shoulders or in front of them? Are your shoulders rounded forward or pulled back and down to open the chest? Having these pictures can give you clues as to where to start with your prevention or correction program and also show your progress over time. It is recommended to use the series of exercises described below at least once every day. You may find it easiest and most effective to do the exercises immediately upon waking each morning and again when you are going to bed. These exercises stretch the muscles most commonly shortened in forward head posture and strengthen the muscles that have weakened to bring your head and neck back into alignment 6.

Exercise #1: Seated Chest Stretch

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Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. Place your hands about a foot behind you and as far apart as your hips. Ideally, your fingers will face forward, but to the side is fine if you don’t have that range of motion yet. Take a soft bend in the elbows. Draw the shoulder blades back and lift the upper chest. Keep your hips on the floor. Draw your chin back so your ears are in line with your shoulders. You should feel this stretch just below your collarbones. The exercise stretches the pectoralis and brachialis muscles. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat for three repetitions.

For a deeper stretch as you progress with this exercise, you can start to slowly lift the hips straight up and away from the floor. Keep your weight in your heels and maintain your neck alignment. Eventually, your torso and upper legs will come to parallel with the floor.

Exercise #2: Upper Back Pulls On the Wall

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Stand facing a wall and place the palms of both hands at least shoulder height high on the wall in front of you. Lean forward into your hands and bend at your hips so you are shaped like an “L”. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down your back. Pull your chin back so your ears are in line with your shoulders. This exercise trains the middle and lower trapezius muscle fibres to pull your cervical spine back into alignment. Hold the contraction for 30 seconds and repeat for three repetitions.

Exercise #3: Stretching Trapezius and Suboccipital Muscles

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While sitting or standing tall, tuck your chin into your chest and look down. Place the palms of your hands on the back of your head and gently press downward. Hold for 30 seconds. Then, rotate your right ear down slightly, maintaining the downward pressure with your hands, to stretch the left side. Hold for 30 seconds. Rotate your left ear down, maintaining downward pressure, to stretch the right side. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat the sequence three times.

 

Exercise #4: Chin Retractions

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Begin by sitting or standing tall with your chin parallel to the ground. Keeping your chin level, use your index and middle finger on one hand (your “peace” fingers) to gently press your head back, giving yourself a double chin. Relax any tension in your jaw. Take your fingers away and try to keep your head in that position for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total of three repetitions. This exercise will train your neck musculature to retain the “ears-over-shoulders” position for optimal posture.
Prevention and early correction of forward head posture is key to eliminating neck and upper back pain. If you work a desk job, you may find it helpful to adjust your workstation to accommodate your new postural habits 7. Try to raise your computer screen to eye level and keep it about two feet away from your face to encourage proper spinal alignment. Paying close attention to your posture at work and at home, along with performing the above exercises, can help you commit to your health and wellness in just a few minutes a day.
Citations:

1. Morningstar, M. W. (2003, March 31). Cervical hyperlordosis, forward head posture, and lumbar kyphosis correction: A novel treatment for mid-thoracic pain. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 2(3), 111-115. doi:10.1016/s0899-3467(07)60055-x

2. Kang, J., Park, R., Lee, S., Kim, J., Yoon, S., & Jung, K. (2012). The Effect of The Forward Head Posture on Postural Balance in Long Time Computer Based Worker. Ann Rehabil Med Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, 36(1), 98. doi:10.5535/arm.2012.36.1.98

3. Troyanovich, S. (2000). Structural rehabilitation of the spine and posture: Rationale for treatment beyond the resolution of symptoms. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 23(6), 0437-0437. doi:10.1067/mmt.2000.108138d

4. Kebaetse, M., Mcclure, P., & Pratt, N. A. (1999). Thoracic position effect on shoulder range of motion, strength, and three-dimensional scapular kinematics. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 80(8), 945-950. doi:10.1016/s0003-9993(99)90088-6

5. Borg-Stein, J. (2002). Cervical myofascial pain and headache. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 6(4), 324-330. doi:10.1007/s11916-002-0055-0

6. Bae, W., Lee, H., Shin, J., & Lee, K. (2016). The effect of middle and lower trapezius strength exercises and levator scapulae and upper trapezius stretching exercises in upper crossed syndrome. J Phys Ther Sci Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 28(5), 1636-1639. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.1636

7. Tornqvist, E. W., Hagberg, M., Hagman, M., Risberg, E. H., & Toomingas, A. (2009). The influence of working conditions and individual factors on the incidence of neck and upper limb symptoms among professional computer users. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 82(6), 689-702. doi:10.1007/s00420-009-0396-7

Lumo Lift Success Story: This Dental Hygienist uses Lumo Lift to prevent back pain

Guest post from Lumo Lift user, Christine B. 

I have been working as a Registered Dental Hygienist for eight years. One of the symptoms known to my profession is back problems. It is difficult to have patients lay in the proper position, which causes me to do a lot of hunching over and leaning. I found myself exploring options to prevent future back problems as I am still fairly young. I came across Lumo lift on one of my professional dental hygiene pages that I belong to and decided to purchase one for myself.

One of the big selling points was the price.  I began to use the lumo lift daily at work and as expected, I was doing a lot of slouching and needed to correct my posture. The gentle buzzing reminder often corrects me. I’ve found that the longer I used it, the more I could anticipate when it would correct me and found I was already correcting myself.

I like that it has different options for me to wear it It came with two different colors to wear outside my shirt so I can have it blend with my scrubs and be discreet if I do choose. I’ve had a lot of coworkers and friends ask me about it and I love to spread the word. Not only to colleagues but also to friends because it seems bad posture is a problem for a lot of people.

I’m now noticing more and more that my back pain has become less and less. I don’t ever leave for work without my lumo lift. I’m also impressed with the many features it includes. The lumo lift doesn’t need to be charged every day and also charges quickly. So there is an option on the super helpful app that lets me know how much battery life is left so that I know when I need to charge.

Overall I think that this was an incredible investment in myself, my career and my health. I find myself feeling better and happier and posture is extremely important in my life. I recommend this product every time someone asks me about it or mentions any type of back pain or posture products. I’m sure this product is very helpful for everyday life and other careers and jobs as well, but for dental professionals it’s pretty much a necessity. Lumo lift has changed my life and I will continue to wear and use it every day.

Is Your Cell Phone Killing Your Back?

This article was originally published on Spineuniverse.com by Joshua M. Ammerman, MD

Millions of people do it throughout the day and are totally unaware that cell phone use can be detrimental to the back. Did you know that cell phone use can double or triple the weight of your head and can strain your neck? If you are reading this article on a cell phone or tablet, you are probably doing it right now:Tilting your head forward and down in order to look at your device.

Cell phones and tablets are changing the way we access information and entertainment. The use of these devices influences our posture and body mechanics in unhealthy ways that contribute to neck, upper back, shoulder, and arm pain. Furthermore, poor posture while sitting, standing, walking, or in a static position can lead to more than upper body pain and stiffness—poor posture affects other parts of the spine, such as the middle and low back.

How much does a human head weigh?
Typically, an adult human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds. As the head tilts or angles forward, the cervical spine’s (neck) muscles, tendons, and ligaments support the head during movement and when static; such as holding the head in a forward tilted position. Even the neck’s intervertebral discs are involved and help absorb and distribute the forces exerted on the neck.

How much heavier is the human head when tilted forward?
To find out, Kenneth K. Hansraj, MD, Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, created a computer model of the cervical spine. In an article published in Surgical Technology International, he reported that this model showed that the strain on your neck rises as the forward angle of your head increases.

  • At 15 degrees of forward tilt may equate to a head weighing 27 pounds.
  • At 30 degrees forward, the strain on the neck equals a 40 pound head.
  • The greater the angle, the greater the strain: 45 degrees forward equals 49 pounds of strain, and 60 degrees forward equals 60 pounds.

Now consider the fact that the average person is holding his or her head forward to look at a phone or read a tablet for 2 to 4 hours a day, according to Dr. Hansraj. Teenagers spend even more time each day looking down at their devices, he added. As you tilt your head, you also move your shoulders forward into a rounded position, which is another aspect of poor posture. All this excess strain creates extra wear and tear on the structures of the neck, upper spine and back, and contributes to/can lead to spinal degeneration that may require surgery.

Postural awareness a positive first step
Making good posture a habit can help prevent neck or back pain from developing, along with related posture and biomechanical problems. Good posture means that your head is upright, your ears are in line with your shoulders, and your shoulder blades are down and retracted.

“In proper alignment, spinal stress is diminished. It is the most efficient position for the spine,” Dr. Hanraj said. Good posture is not only good for the health of your spine; it is good for your over-all health and mood as well as, Dr. Hansraj noted. Other researchers have found that standing straight elevates testosterone and serotonin levels and decreases cortisol levels, hormones that affect your mood, he reported.

However, modern life still requires you to check your phone or use your tablet many times a day. How do you do that and safeguard your neck?

  • First, don’t use your cell phone or your tablet for extended computer work, according to Stanford University’s Environmental Health and Safety Department.
  • Use your desktop or laptop computer for extended work and make sure these devices are arranged ergonomically.
  • When you use a cell phone, instead of bending your head to look down at it, raise your phone.
  • When you are reading the screen, bring the phone up level or just a little below your face.

 

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Customer Success Story: How one developer used Lumo Lift to practically eliminate back pain

Programer slouching

Guest post by Lumo Lift user Tim H.

I am a professional software developer and have “programmers hunch” even though I have tried different reminder software tools to sit up straighter.

In addition, I have suffered from mid back pain resulting from a house move in 2008. Massage and chiropractic relieved the pain somewhat, but only temporarily.

When I read about Lumo Lift, I was really impressed by the potential of having a constant companion to remind me to fix my posture! I bought one shortly thereafter.

In the mornings after I exercise, I put on my Lumo and align it. It helps me sit up straight in the car for my commute. When I’m in the office, I (now instinctively!) align it when I sit down or stand up. Every now and then I get a gentle buzz reminding me to fix my posture. When I’m at home, I keep it on and get little reminders to sit/stand properly.

When I go to bed at night, I put the Lumo in my gym bag for the next day (I keep a portable USB charger in my bag to keep my exercise gadgets charged without needing an outlet, so the Lumo Lift uses that if necessary).

In the two months since I’ve been using it, I feel better! I feel taller for one thing, my mid-back pain has almost entirely disappeared (who knew it was posture!!) and both my massage therapist and chiropractor noted that my shoulders are much easier to manipulate and sit in a much better position naturally. It feels great to know that my posture is getting better after so many years of knowing that I had to improve it but failing to stay on top of the problem.

The Lumo Lift is also an interesting conversation piece! My family, friends, and strangers strike conversations if they happen to notice the magnetic back. When I explain what it’s for and show them the Lumo Lift and Android app, they universally exclaim that they want one too. It seems that poor posture is a common problem!

I did develop one small issue with my Lumo Lift and had to contact support. They were very prompt, helpful, and did eventually send me a replacement with no charge or hassles. That’s pretty rare these days!

I am extremely happy with my Lumo Lift, and use it all of the time. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve made in years, and I recommend it for anybody who wants to improve their posture, suffers from back pain, or just wants to look more confident and poised!

11 Easy Office Stretches to Reduce Back and Neck Pain (Infographic)

If you work at a desk, you’re probably all too familiar with the aches and pains that come with prolonged sitting. Stiff, tired muscles, aching backs and tension in the neck are unfortunate side effects that many people deal with on a regular basis. Fortunately, a few simple routines can help relieve tension, give your muscles a break, and change the physical negativity of a day spent at your desk. For example, just thirty seconds raising each knee toward your chest gives your lower back a break. Moving your wrists back and forth after a day spent on a keyboard gives those muscles some release, too.

Easy Tips to Get Active During the Workday

It’s no secret that the path to better health is through eating right and staying active. But how exactly are you supposed to stay active outside the gym if you’re stuck at the office all day? This can prove to be challenging, but fortunately, it’s not impossible. In this guest blog, professional Netwalker and movement advocate, Jessica Tunon, shares her top tips to staying active during the workday.

Easy Ways To Meet Your Step Goal At Work

Like the majority of Americans, when I’m not running or working out at the gym, I live a relatively sedentary life. I sit at a desk for 8+ hours a day and commute to and from work in my car – more sitting. To combat my sloth-like tendencies, I decided it was time to get moving and set a daily activity goal of 10,000 steps per day; 5,000 of which I aimed to achieve while at the office.

A Facebook Chiropractor’s Guide to Good Posture and Wearables

— Contributed Post by Daniel Lord —

Physical therapists and chiropractors can’t be everywhere all the time. Outside of our patients’ visits, we can’t be there to prod them into making better decisions, like “drink water instead!” or “sit up straight!”, no matter how much we’d like to do so. Thankfully, it’s in those moments that technology is most helpful.

The Evolution of Posture

A couple of months ago, the Economist released a map (shown below) to illustrate the findings of a worldwide survey conducted out of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation to look at “the burden of disability” across different countries. As clearly marked in the graphic, you can see that lower back pain took the crown for most common causes of disability, globally.  See the full study here.

You’ve Got Winter Posture

A week away from Thanksgiving and roughly a month away from Christmas and New Years, we’re headed straight into the festive holiday season where we surround ourselves with delicious food and great company, Fun festivities aside, one downside to the end of the year season is the drop in temperature that chill our bones — and our posture.

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