The 42 Lb. Head
by Erik Dalton Ph.D., Certified Advanced Rolfer
founder of Freedom From Pain Institute
According to research, every inch the head moves forward of the shoulders, weight is amplified by 10 pounds. As a result, a 12 pound head held 3 inches forward causes the cervical extensors (semispinalis, splenii, longissimus, upper traps, etc.) to isometrically battle 42 pounds against the relentless force of gravity. And yet, practitioners are still baffled at the number of clients complaining of chronic head, neck, thorax and TMJ pain.
Forward Head Postures such as the Upper Crossed Syndrome (Fig. 1) evolve from poor sleeping positions, driving stress, computer neck, whiplash, and faulty breathing habits. Resulting pain syndromes can often be traced to muscle strain, disc herniations, arthritis, pinched nerves and 'dural-drag' from an overstretched or impinged spinal cord. Some believe that up-regulation of the central nervous system may have foundations in elusive conditions such as fibromyalgia, myofascial tender points, and chronic fatigue syndromes.
The following traits are often seen in those presenting with Upper Crossed Syndrome:
- Suboccipital pain syndromes
- Mouth breathing (sleep apnea)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Teeth clenching
- Face & neck pain
- Migraine headaches
As increased force drags the head and neck forward in the sagittal plane, hypertonic hyoids frequently resist this translatory movement causing jaw retrusion and TMJ compression (Fig 2). In 2006, Spine Journal reported that forward head carriage played a major role in accelerated aging of intervertebral joints which results in degenerative disc disease (cervical osteoarthritis) and osteoporosis (Fig.3). Obviously, the repercussions of poor posture go significantly beyond just looking awkward. As stated in the January, 2008 issue of the American Journal of Pain Management, posture and function are related. Aberrant posture was notable in subjects presenting with chronic low back pain, neck related headaches, and stress-related illnesses.
Posture has an impact on and helps modulate all the body's systems from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are some of the functions most easily impacted by poor posture. An article in the Mayo Clinic Health Letter Vol. 18, #3, March 2000, stated that "Damage from prolonged head forward posture contributes to myospasm, disc herniations, osteoporosis and nerve impingement."
When spinal tissues are exposed to prolonged compression, they regretably deform and go through a transformation that can become permanent. Correction of Upper Crossed neck posture is the solution to halting and reversing degenerative disc disease and pain from headaches, rib dysfunction, TMJ, and Dowager's Humps. Over time, many of these conditions can be helped through manual therapy modalities that seek to restore correct alignment and allow the body to repair damage caused by forward head postures.