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Correcting Posture to Relieve Headaches and Neck Tension

"If you spend hours of your day in the wrong posture, your head will start to move forward, and your muscles will start to spasm."

What the heck is Forward Neck Syndrome? Well it’s a condition that’s becoming more and more common these days. We spend a lot of time hunched over our phones, computers, and steering wheels, which leads to poor posture and can be a real pain in the neck.

In fact, posture problems affect 60 - 90% of the population! Today, Dr. Keller is talking about how to diagnose Forward Neck Syndrome, and some of the effects posture can have on our health. He’ll also demonstrate some easy exercises and stretches that can help correct this uncomfortable syndrome and relieve symptoms.

Video Highlights.

  • 00:35: Bad Posture
  • 01:31: How do you know if you have good posture? 
  • 04:42: Forward Neck Syndrome
  • 06:30: Some exercises that you can do to help correct posture
  • 06:53: Sternocleidomastoid massage
  • 07:52: Stretch the suboccipital muscles
  • 08:48: Stretch the suboccipital muscles version 2
  • 09:45: Strengthen the back muscles
  • 11:00: Scalene Massage
  • 12:22: Other things that you can do
  • 15:13: Wrap Up

Bad Posture

There are a lot ofreasons that people may experienceheadaches andneck pains. However, one of the most common causes is bad posture. This is basically a result of the demands of the modern lifestyle, as we spend a lot of time hunched over phones, driving cars, working behind computer screens, and even slouched on the couch. All these things contribute to an unnatural posture — rounding of our shoulders, a forwardness of our head all the time — and it wreaks havoc on our posture. This can lead to headaches and neck pain.

How do you know if you have good posture? 

In general, good posture is when your ears are positioned over your shoulders. To test this, stand up against the wall and put your heels and bottom against the wall and stand how you normally would stand. Get a ruler (or have a friend get one) and measure the distance from the wall to the back of your head. That really should be under an inch. For most of us (60 to 90% of the population), it’s going to be larger than an inch, and for every inch that your head is forward on your neck and shoulders, it adds 10 pounds to the weight of your head. 

When your head is balancing perfectly, it’s great. Gravity just helps to keep things in line and all the muscles are relaxed. But as soon as it starts to tilt to one side, the muscles on the back side of your neck have to start working. It’s almost like they’re hoisting your head up, and they get really tired and worn out, they start to spasm and then you end up with an achy feeling that can go up to the back of your head. Often times, when our neck is forward, we’re compensating by looking up and then you’ve got an unnatural angle in the back. The vertebrae in your spine and the discs that serve as padding between each vertebrae, don’t respond well to this. You can end up with herniated discs in your neck, and arthritis of the vertebrae, in between the bones of your neck.

There are some other ways to look at how much farther your head leans forward than it should. One method involves drawing a line from the bottom of the neck, up to your tragus, which is the first part of your ear. The more upright you are, the more open this angle will be. As your head moves forward, the angle closes. If it’s less than 50 degrees, that means you have a serious problem with your neck. 

Forward Neck Syndrome

When we talk about Forward Neck Syndrome, we’re basically talking about a muscle imbalance that occurs. Some of the muscles on the back side become weak and stretched out. These are your deep cervical flexors that are called Longus Capitis, Longus Colli muscles, and some of the upper back muscles like your trapezius which is from the base of your skull down to your shoulder blades and on to your mid back. Your rhomboids, which are the ones that pinch in between your shoulder blades, also get loose and become weak. 

There are some other muscles, predominantly the ones on the front side, that can get tight and become shortened. Those are the sternocleidomastoid, which goes down diagonally to your sternum behind your ear, the pec major, minor; the ones that attach your chest to your shoulder, and the scalene, which extend from the side of your shoulder to your jaw. These ones get tight and locked down and you develop an imbalance and tension. In fact, the headaches that we are talking about are often referred to as tension headaches. 

Some exercises that you can do to help correct posture

Sternocleidomastoid massage

You can find the sternocleidomastoid by turning your head to the side and feeling the band that kind of pokes out right in the sternum and it goes up to behind your ear. Do the massage with your fingers, going up the entire length of the muscle, from your sternum all the way up to behind your ear. You can turn your head if you need to and just massage it. Pinch it in between your hands or apply some gentle pressure by tugging down on it. This will help loosen the tight muscles there.

Stretch the suboccipital muscles

These are the muscles at the back of your neck, where the top of your neck attaches to your skull, or the occiput. When you handle these, take your finger, put it on your chin and tuck your chin. Get your hand and gently pull your head forward with your chin tucked. You want to be careful when pulling your head forward. Don’t do it too abruptly or apply too much pressure. Those tiny little muscles on the base of your skull that are clumped down will get a nice stretch.

Stretch the suboccipital muscles version 2

This is similar to the previous stretch, but instead of using your hands to pull down, place two fingers on your chin and just push the chin back. You’re not using your whole hand, or pivoting your head. Your pushing it straight back, keeping your shoulders as much in line as you can. This is one that you actually want to do often in repetition. Try to keep your chin level and just move the head back. It’s not about up or down; it’s about level and back.

Strengthen the back muscles

Sit on a chair and take your arms out to the side, thumbs pointing out. You’re externally rotating, and really you want to try and open up your chest as much as you can. Squeeze back and relax. Do this again for a few minutes. You should feel a contraction between your shoulder blades and a nice stretch of the pec major and minor. Do that and hold it for two or three seconds and relax. If you do a set of these, you will feel it. If you haven’t done these exercises routinely, you’re definitely going to notice it and you’re going to feel good.

Scalene Massage

The last one is for the scalene. The scalene are a web of muscles in the collar bone, shoulder, and neck area. For this exercise, you want to try and keep your head neutral and your chin level. Tilt your head to the side and take the other hand, grab your ear and just pull it over. Don’t overdo it. If you’re on the floor or on a chair, you can stretch that out. Tilt your head a little bit and you will find where the tension is. Hold that very gently and don’t pull too hard your hand. Repeat on the other side. 

Other Tips

There are a couple of other things that you can do. If you have an elastic band, you can use this to strengthen those back muscles, the rhomboids. Just pull below your chest and hold it, keeping the chin level, and release. Do multiple sets of these. The elastic bands are convenient, portable, and there are lots of different ways you can use them.

If you have a really hard time getting motivated to do these exercises on your own, get into a yoga class or a pilates class. Even if you’re doing it once a week, it’ll make a difference. A lot of the exercises in these classes involve squeezing your shoulders and opening up your chest, and they will help a lot with your neck. They’re going to help start relieving the tension you get in all these muscles that are trying to pull the head where it’s supposed to be and again stretch those front muscles that are pulling it the wrong direction. 

While driving, try putting your hands in the 4 and 8 positions instead of 10 and 2. This position involves less tension on your upper shoulders, and it’s much more relaxed. If you’ve got a car where you have the seats more upright and less slouched, this is going to make a difference too if you spend a lot of time in your car. 

Wrap Up

We spend hours of our days looking down, reading, texting, leaning over, and working. If you spend hours of your day in this wrong posture, your head will start to move forward, and your muscles will start to spasm. So if you’re getting headaches and experiencing neck tension, and you want to do something about it, you don’t need to pop pain pills and muscle relaxers, just start to do these exercises or get yourself into a yoga class or a pilates class. You’ll start feeling a lot better. 

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