One of the most common types of bad posture we see as Osteopaths in people who sit for long periods every day, is something called ‘forward head posture’. It’s exactly what it sounds like it is – having a head that has been held forwards for so long, that it becomes the body’s normal state.
What Is 'Forward Head Posture'?
You’ll know if you have forward head posture, because too much sitting will be uncomfortable! The classic symptoms you’ll be feeling include burning along the back of the neck, across the tops of your shoulders and feeling a strain or fatigue in the upper back.
You’ll feel fidgety when your sitting or standing, and generally just can’t find a comfortable position. Also, you’ll find the more tired your muscles are at holding your head up against gravity, the shorter and shorter the amounts of time you’ll be able to sit for are. And the headaches… Miserable.
Another thing many people comment on is their reflection – if you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a shop window, you might notice that you have forward head posture. Kind of looking like a turtle.
Is Forward Head Posture Bad For Your Health?
Yes, there are many reasons why forwards head posture is bad for you. In order to have “good posture” your body must comfortably be able to hold itself in a position whereby all of your body and joints are aligned properly.
Look at the picture below. The best posture, sitting or standing, is where you can draw a line vertically down from your ear lobe (or just in front) to your hips and down to the middle of your ankle bone.
This posture prevents excessive strain on the musculoskeletal system (ligaments, tendons, muscles and joints and discs of the spine). It avoids an imbalance of muscles and ligaments – some become longer and weaker, and others get shorter and tighter.
This then causes you problems when you try to do something different – e.g. do some kind of fitness activity, or use your body in the opposite way – standing or sitting (whichever it isn’t used to). Plus, these tight, short muscles are no longer supple and thus much easier to injure.
Fun And Interesting Posture Facts
Your head weighs approximately 5kgs. And for every 1 inch / 2.5 cms forward your posture is, your neck has to combat an extra 4.5kgs!
That extra strain on the discs of you neck could lead to early wear and tear (or what we call ‘degenerative changes’).
Leaning forwards (like when you are brushing your teeth or chopping veges) puts 3-4 times more strain on your spine.
This is why your back can be fine all day, but get tired and achy easily when you do these small forward flexion activities.
Looking down at your laptop (on your lap) or your device can place an extra 27kgs of pressure on the neck.
Not very good news for the discs can become compressed, or the muscles which fight hard to hold up your head against the fores of gravity.
There are approximately 220 ligaments in the spine.
Once a ligament has become stretched, like when you sit in a slumped position, it cannot be tightened again – its is stretched and slackened for life.
Focus On Sitting Correctly
The key to sitting correctly, is starting from the Lumbar spine, and working from bottom up!
If you sit well supported with your lower back / bottom up against the back of the chair, that’s step number 1. Step 2, is having a good support for your lower back, like a rolled up towel or a proper lumbar support. (We have them at the clinic if you want to take a look).
Why does this work? Well, having a support for your lower back’s natural curve makes you immediately sit upright. In fact, it pushes your Lumbar spine forwards, making it difficult to slump. The weight of the arms will naturally cause your shoulders to drop in this position. Then, all you have to do is move your mouse / device closer to you, or consider supporting your forearms on a couple of cushions or a tray.
With a Lumbar support, you’re naturally in a much better position to undo that bad posture. Your head will be back to being carried in the mid-line again – the way it was designed to be carried! No more weighty over-load for those neck discs, joints and muscles!
Sitting for long periods of time still requires regular breaks, but you might find this just helps set you up to keep going for a bit longer. If you still having that nasty burning feeling, you’ll need just a bit of extra help. Think about some massage or a couple of Osteopathy treatments to literally get you on the straight and narrow again!