When considering the assessment and maintenance of health, there are radical differences between the methods of Western and Eastern medicine. On a broad scope, it can be said that where Western medicine focuses on content (specific body parts and their associated symptoms), Eastern medicine focuses on context (the symptoms as they relate to and effect the entire body).
Consider this list of 10 ailments. Did you know that all of them can be caused by (or stem from) the same underlying condition? Can you guess what it is? Give it a try; here’s the list:
- tension-type headaches
- tempero-mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
- “knots” in the back of the neck
- “rocks” in the shoulders
- “sore” chest muscles
- poor sleep
- chronic “achy” feeling
- numbness or tingling of the arms and/or hands
- trigeminal neuralgia (facial pain)
Give up? The answer is Forward Head Posture (FHP). All 10 problems can be associated with this same underlying cause.
FHP is one of the most common postural problems we experience on a chronic basis. It is our modern lifestyle that is responsible for it—as we’ll see in a minute. In essence, FHP is the result of either repetitive forward head movement, or the carrying (holding) of the head in a position that is forward of the shoulder plum-line.
Proper postural alignment finds ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears all falling along the same vertical central line. The relatively heavy head must rest directly on the neck and shoulders, like a golf ball on a tee. Yet, FHP finds the head sticking out, jutting forward of the shoulders, with the ears in line with the chest or front of the deltoids.
Cause And Effect
FHP can be caused by many things. Here is a list of five of the more common ones:
- looking down toward your hands while typing or reading
- looking into a microscope
- sitting improperly with shoulders rounded and back hunched
- driving with your head more than 2 to 3 inches from the headrest
- carrying a backpack or heavy purse slung over one shoulder
These are not all of the causes of FHP, but enough to make the point. The problem is that repeated forward and/or downward facing postures cause concurrent hypotonic (lengthening) and hypertonic (shortening) of several major muscles (i.e., lavater, rhomboid, trapazious, pectoral), degeneration of cervical (neck) vertebrae and irritation of cervical nerves.
According to literature from the Mayo Clinic, “FHP leads to long term muscle strain, disc herniation, arthritis, and pinched nerves.” (Mayo Clinic Health Letter, V.18, #3, March 2000)
Did you know that pinched or irritated nerves, tightened muscles and isometric contraction (which occurs when the neck must hold upright a forward leaning head), all cause pain as a result of “stagnation of blood, fluids and qi energy). And when there is blockage or stagnation, there is pain.
What You Can Do
Now that we’ve identified a single underlying cause of many problems, the next step is correcting the problem. And what better way to do this than following the simple idea of returning the body to homeostasis: That is, rebalancing what is imbalanced. Here are four simple things you can do to correct (balance) FHP.
• Lying Head Raise: Lay face down on the floor with your hands overlapped and held on your lower back. Lift and extend your head and shoulders up, while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for three seconds, and repeat 15 times. Do this three times per day.
• Chin Tuck: Hold your shoulders straight. Stick your chin out to the front and hold for three seconds. Pull your chin in as far back as it will go and hold for three seconds. Repeat six times. Do this three times per day.
• Chin To Chest Stretch: Overlap your fingers and place both hands behind your head. Use your hands to push your head down so your chin goes toward your chest. Do NOT lower your head and then press with your hands, as this defeats the idea of the stretch. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and return to the upright position. You should feel a stretch between your shoulders. Repeat three times. Do this three times per day.
• Doorway Stretch: Stand with both feet parallel behind (but in the center of) a door frame. Place one arm 90-degrees along the side of the doorframe facing you. If your right arm is touching the frame, then your right foot takes a long step forward. Be sure to bend your knee, as if you were really trying to walk forward. You should feel a nice stretch across your chest. If not, turn your body to the left. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat three times then switch sides. Do this three times per day.
Here are a few simple ways to adjust your daily activities to prevent FHP from taking hold in your body—or returning after balance is achieved:
- Make sure the top of your computer screen is level with your eyes, and about two feet away from your face.
- Be sure to carry a back pack squarely over both shoulders to balance the weight distribution.
- If you carry a heavy purse or duffel bag, it is better to sling it diagonally across the torso.
- Have ample lower back support while sitting or lying for prolonged periods, as a lax position leads to slouching, which can lead to FHP.
You may remember from a previous article that we discussed three causes of pain, illness and disease as stemming from a deficiency, excess or stagnation in the body? Well, FHP leads to all three at the same time. Excessive forward head posture leads to lengthening of upper back muscles (excess), which causes shortening of pectoral muscles (deficiency), which leads to impinged nerves (stagnation), which leads to pain. And all this simply because the body does what it has to in an effort to maintain balance.
It’s better to maintain balance on our own and to prevent such imbalances to take hold in the body. When the body does it on its own… it hurts so much more.
— Dr. Mark Wiley