Summer is when I see most of my patient’s children. It used to be that I saw them for sports injuries, these days it has been more often for headaches and neck pain. Wonder why? The answer is technology overload. Text messaging, video gaming, surfing the Internet – hours on end with your head down, neck scrunched, shoulders forward, staring at a tiny phone, iPod or other device. Your body is sending you a message-headache, neck pain, muscle tension, spasm, middle back pain. Are you listening. It’s time to answer this message before these symptoms become chronic and cause dramatic health consequences.
Fast Facts: The Consequences of Forward Head Posture
1. Long-term forward neck posture leads to “long-term muscle strain, disc herniations and pinched nerves.” (Mayo Clinic Health Letter, March 2000)
2. In regard to respiratory dysfunction in chronic neck pain patients, a recent study “demonstrated a strong association between an increased forward head posture and decreased respiratory muscle strength in neck patients.” (Cephalgia, February 2009)
3. “For every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” (Kapandji, Physiology of the Joints, Volume 3)
4. “Loss of the cervical curve stretches the spinal cord 5-7 cm and causes disease.” (Dr. Alf Breig, neurosurgeon and Nobel Prize recipient)
5. “90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine,” says Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize recipient for brain research. Dr. Sperry demonstrated that 90 percent of the energy output of the brain is used in relating the physical body to gravity. Only 10 percent has to do with thinking, metabolism, and healing, so when you have forward head posture, your brain will rob energy from your thinking, metabolism, and immune function to deal with abnormal gravity/posture relationships and processing.
6. According to Rene Cailliet MD, director of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Southern California, forward head posture can add up to 30 pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine. This can pull the entire spine out of alignment. FHP results in loss of vital capacity of the lungs by as much as 30 percent. This shortness of breath can lead to heart and blood vascular disease. The entire gastrointestinal system is affected; particularly the large intestine. Loss of good bowel peristaltic function and evacuation is a common effect of FHP. It causes an increase in discomfort and pain because proprioceptive signals from the first four cervical vertebrae are a major source of the stimuli which create the body’s pain controlling chemicals (endorphins). With inadequate endorphin production, many otherwise non-painful sensations are experienced as pain. FHP dramatically reduces endorphin production.
7. FHP has been shown to flatten the normal neck curve, resulting in disc compression, damage and early arthritis. Spine, 1986)
What to do?
The first thing that comes to mind is to limit the time spent on technology, however it does not always work, especially with children. The best home care advice is to learn how to practice a mirror image activities throughout the day. For example, if you spend time with your neck flexed forward, lay down on a towel roll with your head hanging off the edge of the bed for 8-10 minutes throughout the day, or at least before going to bed. Practice chest stretches at the door while changing the height at which you place your arms, so that you stretch all fibers at a different angle of the chest muscles. You can also lay down on the exercise ball or a foam roller on your back and move your arms in a circular motion. While standing against the wall flatten out your spine, so that the lower back and the middle back contact the wall and do 5-10 snow angel motions with your arms touching the wall behind you. Shrug your shoulders towards the ears and then pull away from the ears as you are using the shoulder blades hold for 2-3 seconds at the end position. Chiropractors use mirror image adjusting techniques to correct posture, so in addition to your home treatment see your chiropractor regularly.