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Fixing forward head posture to reduce pain and headaches

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Is forward head posture hurting you?

Symptoms of forward head posture

Are you struggling with neck pain, headaches, loss of shoulder mobility, or even stabbing pains behind your shoulder blade?

These can all be symptoms of forward head posture.

So much of our days are now spent looking down at screens.  Our ergonomic set-ups are lacking, and over time poor posture actually changes the shape of our bodies.

When it comes to muscles in the neck, some become shortened while others become stretched.  Both situations result in weakness. 

As our neck muscles get weaker, they’re also asked to work harder to hold our heads up.

This can trigger muscle pains, tension, headaches and trigger points that can feel like daggers in your shoulder blades.

Adding insult to injury…poor posture makes you look older and shorter.

These posture changes can also reduce your shoulder mobility and lead to problems like rotator cuff tears. 

Now you really feel old.

We’re not done!  Forward head posture can also impact your breathing, energy, and endurance.

With forward head posture

  1. the head constricts the throat thereby blocking the amount of air you can take in

  2. the thoracic spine rounds and rib cage stiffens, thereby blocking the diaphragm and intercostal muscles from contracting and expanding fully

  3. the accessory muscles of breathing get short, tight, and weak with posture changes, therefore fatiguing faster and contributing further to the problem

And the research has demonstrated this to be true:

“Forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume in 1 second were significantly lower in the forward head posture group than in the normal group. ” (read more here.)

If you are noticing more difficulty breathing while you’re running, more headaches from greater neck tension, reduced cervical range of motion, and more difficulty with abdominal breathing in your yoga classes, you’re feeling the effects of these posture changes on your breath.

"Over time, these imbalances will spread throughout the muscular system in a predictable manner"

Dr. Vladimir Janda 

Can forward head posture be reversed?


While it may never get to perfect, you can always make it better and prevent further progression and breakdown.

Let’s look at my 3-step process for reversing forward head posture:

1.  Correct your posture in your everyday positions.

  • Ergonomics.  Bring your screens to eye level.  Bring your mouse and keyboard closer to you so that your elbows can rest by your side, not stretched out away from your body.  Adjust your seat height and consider a standing desk.

  • Sitting.  Whether at your desk or behind the wheel, work to stack your head between your shoulders when you drive with your chin parallel to the floor.  Make sure your spine is elongated from your tailbone up.  I will show you specific exercises for this in the video below.

  • Keep your rib cage stacked over the pelvis.  Often our rib cage flares our or tucks in, both of which can restrict your breathing and your spinal mobility.  The ability to take a full diaphragmatic breath is a great clue to notice if you’re aligned well or not.

  • Intentionally set up your standing posture then try to maintain it while standing in line or at the sink. (Bonus you’ll look taller and thinner when you stand with correct posture!).  You should feel the majority of your weight over your arches in your feet, not over the heels.

2.  Build strength to hold this new alignment.

  • Repetition is the key to strengthening.  Any and every exercise you do is a new opportunity to reinforce good posture.  Work on alignment in your yoga classes, your lifting, and even on the treadmill. Mirrors are great, but PT’s or trainers are even better.

  • See  the video below for some sample posture strengthening exercises.

3.  Build endurance 

  • You are fighting the force of gravity all day long.  Build postural endurance so you can sit straighter longer.  That comes from repeated exercises that  target those structures prone to tightness and weakness.

Sometimes you may have tissues or joints that are stuck and require more skillful mobilization in order for you to truly correct your posture.  Working with a PT can be extremely valuable in finding, and reversing, these patterns.

Additionally, a PT can do some investigative work to figure out which side to stretch and which to strengthen, as well as point out any other kinks in your movement patterns that should be corrected. 

This can all can save you a ton of time and headache (literally!) down the line.

Working with a Physical Therapist can help you feel better and move better faster. 

Here at the Wellness Concierge we help patients improve their posture on a daily basis. Contact us for more info on how we can partner together and take care of your symptoms!

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