How Do I Fix My Forward Head Posture?

FORWARD HEAD POSTURE DEFINED & THE ANATOMY BEHIND IT

A general understanding of the anatomy of the spine is essential to comprehend the causes of forward head posture and to understand the reasoning behind certain exercises and strategies to fix it, which we will provide below in an easy-to-follow exercise program. So before we dive straight into what forward head posture is, let’s take a more in-depth look at the anatomy of the spine and neck.

The spine is composed of 33 vertebrae. Four different regions, the cervical spine, the thoracic spine, the lumbar spine, and the sacral spine, which connects to the pelvic bones, make up the spine. These regions form the natural curvatures and proper posture of the spine creating an ‘S-like’ shape.

The neck, or cervical spine, is made up of 7 vertebrae. The neck is particularly delicate as it is the means by which the nerves enter the spinal column from the brain connecting signals and messages throughout our bodies. These signals allow for control of movement and also send the necessary output to enable us to breathe and for our heart to beat.  

The first two vertebrae, C1 and C2 or the atlas and axis, are particularly unique compared to the rest of the spine as they allow for greater range of movement of at the neck, such as rotation and flexion movements, and are different in structure and size when compared to other vertebrae. Forward head posture occurs when the head protrudes forward over an inch past the atlas, C1. Surprisingly, this can cause an extra ten pounds of force pulling on the neck and spine, straining muscles and leaving you susceptible to other issues causing pain. 

The major muscles supporting and moving the head and neck include the sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, the scalene muscles, and the levator scapulae. In forward head posture, these muscles can become strained under the additional pull due to the forward position of the head. The body likes to be balanced. When there is a pull on one body part, the body will try to compensate in other ways to maintain a balanced and normal state. The sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and trapezius muscles, in particular, tighten and try to compensate for the lack of support the head is receiving in the forward position. This can further strain other muscles and tissues connected to the back and shoulder areas and can set in motion a wide variety of issues and painful series of events.

As the neck is pulled forward by the weight of the head, the center of gravity of the body shifts. The upper back hunches forward to compensate. With the upper back hunched forward, the lower body tilts forward, bringing the hips to the front, accentuating the curve in the low back. On occasion, individuals may end up with low back pain. 

 Often, we do not want the forward head posture to escalate this far, as that then involves multiple entities to treat and a longer recovery time. Treatment, often involving simple strengthening and stretching exercises, such as that outlined in the rehabilitation program in sections below, sooner rather than later can correct the misalignment before other issues arise. 

 

 But, how do you know if you have "forward head posture"?

 There is a simple check you can do within the comfort of your own home. Stand with your back against a wall. The back of the head, shoulders, lower back, and heels should be all be able to make contact with the wall at the same time. If the head is forward and there is obvious discomfort with it positioned on the wall, you may be suffering from forward head posture.

Physical therapists or other health practitioners may do further testing to determine if your posture is the issue. Following confirmation of diagnosis, correcting the cause and following a rehabilitation exercise protocol, which we will explore in further detail below, can often correct the issue and eliminate associated pain.

 

WHAT CAUSES FORWARD HEAD POSTURE?

Repeated incidences and situations of improper postural positions are frequently the cause of “desk neck,” or forward head posture. Proper posture is defined as the position in which the body’s muscles, tissues, and bones are under the least amount of stress or strain. In normal postural alignment, the shoulders remain back with the chest open, the hips are in line with the feet and shoulders, and the neck and head are in line with the shoulders and the rest of the spine. Any deviation from this norm can have adverse effects causing pain or other issues throughout the body. Causes of this particular condition include: 

  • Long periods of time in front of a computer or desk with an improper ergonomic set up causing the individual to protrude the head forward.
  • Forward slouching of the upper thoracic spine contributing to a forward head position.
  • Looking down at a cell phone or book for long periods of time.
  • Improper sleeping positions causing the head or cervical spine to be forced forward.
  • Driving with the head in a forward position away from the headrest.
  • Muscle weakness, such as that in the deep neck flexors or postural muscles.
  • Improper bag carrying techniques. 1

 

Essentially, any activity or position that causes the head to jut forward can prime the body to become stuck in a forward head position. In modern society, texting is emerging as a leading cause of this misalignment. Individuals of all ages spend countless hours hunched over or looking down at their cellphone. Over long periods of time, this can have detrimental effects. If not fixed, other negative consequences or conditions may arise that may be irreversible. 

 

SIDEEFFECTS OF FORWARD HEAD POSTURE

Forward head posture can, surprisingly, be very debilitating. It can cause chronic pain and as aforementioned, escalate into more problematic issues or conditions. If not fixed, the hunch of the body forward can even decrease your lung capacity as much as 30%.2 Thus, it can not only cause pain but can start to have physiological impacts on the body, disrupting normal functioning. Degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, herniated discs, muscle strains, headaches, thoracic outlet syndrome, sleep disruptions, and social implications are further issues that can arise if postural deficits are left untreated. We explore these conditions and their relationship to the postural imbalance called forward head posture in the sections below. 

 

  • DEGENERATIVE DISC DISEASE

Degenerative disc disease is the wear and tear over time of the discs located between the vertebrae bones. Over 60% of the population aged 40 and over experience some level of degenerative disc disease.3 The disks act as shock absorbers in the spine, prevent painful bone-on-bone grinding and allow movement to occur in the spine. However, as time goes on they become dehydrated and lose their cushioning abilities.

 

Unfortunately, unlike most parts of the body, the discs are not self-repairing. They lack a direct blood supply leading to slow or no healing mechanisms. Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include, but may not be limited to, pain in the neck or arms, numbness or tingling in the shoulders or arms, lack of balance, stiffness in the neck, and in more severe cases, loss of bowel or bladder control due to nerve disruptions. 

 

Forward head posture can speed up this process. The additional weight of the head causing strain and pressure on the bones and tissues in the neck can place stress on the intervertebral discs, causing degeneration to occur at a much faster rate. Disc replacement surgery does exist but is a rarity. It is a very invasive procedure, and there are mixed opinions on whether it completely solves the problem. Many years down the line, with technological advances, this may eventually prove to be a more viable option. However, with the effect being reasonably permanent, posture is inevitably significant to prevent early degeneration which can trigger a domino effect of complications and ensure good spinal health.

 

  • OSTEOARTHRITIS

 

Osteoarthritis is directly related to degenerative disc disease. Similar to degenerative disc disease, the additional weight and stress the neck endures via forward head posture wears down the cervical spine joints.

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease where the cartilage in between joints and bones break down causing painful bone-on-bone contact. The cartilage on the facet joints, which are the regions where movement occurs in the spine, wear down. The rate at which this happens can be sped up by the lack of protective discs in between the vertebrae. When the intervertebral discs become degenerated, there is a higher risk of osteoarthritis. Further, painful bone spurs, or excess growth of the bone, may develop due to the bone-on-bone grinding.

 

In severe cases, narrowing of the spinal cord canal can cause neurological problems affecting functioning abilities. Nerves can become compressed causing radiating pain and nerve signal disruptions. For example, gripping a glass or maintaining balance could become problematic. 

 Other symptoms that may develop in association with osteoarthritis include lack of mobility in the neck, general pain in the neck, neck stiffness, and sometimes, a grinding sensation when moving the head and neck. These provide vital reasoning as to why fixing forward head posture before it gets worse is crucial. 

 Although with age and time osteoarthritis and disc degeneration may be inevitable, speeding up the process evidently leads to unnecessary pains and discomforts earlier on in life. Postural correction is step one in preventing early onset of osteoarthritis or other spinal degeneration. 

 Take the time to complete the appropriate exercises weekly, as outlined in our rehabilitation program in below. Changes may not occur right away, but over time, it is an entirely correctable condition. Through exercise, you can eliminate your neck pain and prevent adverse effects, such as osteoarthritis, from happening.

 

  • HERNIATED DISCS

 With the long-term forward positioning of the head, the vertebrae may shift forward. The angle at which the bones shift and the additional pressure created by the head can expose and rupture intervertebral discs, most commonly called a herniated disc. 

 Also known as a slipped disc, the major issue with this condition is that nerves in the affected area can become pinched causing pain, numbness, and tingling to occur. The discs located in the cervical region are not as big as other locations throughout the spine. Thus, when a herniated disc happens, the effects and symptoms can be much worse. Other symptoms, similar to those of osteoarthritis and degenerative disc diseases, may include neck pain, pain in the shoulders and arms, and weakness in the neck and arms.

 Although exercise can help to alleviate pain in the case of a herniated disc, it often becomes a condition you deal with for the rest of your life. Surgery options can further help. However, there are mixed reviews from post-surgery patients on whether it entirely helped solve the problem or just made it fractionally better. Post-surgery, many still complain of pain and often end up still focussing on similar pain management strategies when compared to their non-surgical counterparts. 

 However, spinal manipulation in the form of decompression in manual therapies, in conjunction with strengthening exercises, have proven to be a good maintenance strategy for spinal degeneration, spinal osteoarthritis, and herniated discs. However, avoidance of this issue altogether is the best strategy to ensure you live your best life, free of pain and spinal problems. Again, prevention comes back to postural correction tactics which we will explore further in sections below.

 

  • MUSCLE STRAINS

 

Muscles strains happen when a tear or stretching past normal limits occurs in a muscle. The stress and pull caused by the head, dependant on the severity of the problem, can stretch the muscles that are typically shorter in correct alignment. These muscle strains can be persistent and painful. They can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to heal. Eliminating forward head posture as a cause can help these muscles heal properly and also, prevent repetitive muscle strains from occurring. 

 

  • HEADACHES AND MIGRAINES  

 

Many of the muscles in the neck attach to the base of the skull. When these muscles, such as the suboccipitals, become tight due to the forward position of the head, headaches and migraines may occur. 

 

One study, in particular, noted that the higher number of tender points in these muscles and with forward head posture, there was a higher frequency and intensity of headaches.5 Another study saw frequency and duration of tension headaches increase in conjunction with tightness of the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the upper trapezius muscle, and the temporalis muscle.

 

Dependant on the severity, headaches can cause dizziness, confusion, pain, discomfort, and disorientation. In some, they can further lead to migraines that may last for days at a time. To decrease the risk and occurrence of headaches or migraines, stretching of these muscles can help. Further, the obvious of reducing forward head posture is critical in making sure they do not become a regular occurrence. 

 

 Other studies explored the connection between forward head posture and jaw pain, as well as its relation to tighter muscles triggering headaches. Although studies were mixed on the actual correlation between the two, many health professionals, such as physical therapists, agree that forward head posture can lead to jaw pain in conjunction with headaches or migraines, providing another reason to avoid this postural position and find strategies to correct it.7

 

  • THORACIC OUTLET SYNDROME

 

Thoracic outlet syndrome is defined as the compression of nerves and blood vessels in between the collarbone and the first rib, near the armpit area. Forward head posture puts you at risk of thoracic outlet syndrome. The forward position of the head causes the thoracic cavity to cave in on itself. This abnormality can create issues regarding space. 

 

As aforementioned, lung capacity can be greatly reduced due to this postural deficit. In thoracic outlet syndrome, the compressed blood vessels and nerves can cause tingling and numbness in the arms, weakness in the shoulders and arms, pain in the shoulders or arms, and swelling. Bringing the shoulders back and adjusting the forward position of the head can greatly reduce your risk of thoracic outlet syndrome.

 

  • SLEEP DISRUPTIONS  

 

Sleep disruptions, including insomnia and sleep apnea, are frequent in those with forward head posture. Pain and negative effects can interrupt regular sleep patterns which further can have detrimental effects on other aspects of your life, such as those in social and work. 

 Many with forward head posture at are a higher risk of sleep apnea due to the position of the head restricting breathing capabilities. The flexed forward position of the neck obstructs the airway. Sleep apnea is when breathing pauses during sleep. It can become very serious as oxygen is necessary for normal functioning and lack of can deprive the tissues and brain of that much-needed energy. Further, snoring is more likely since breathing may be problematic causing interruptions throughout the regular sleep cycle. 

 

The pain associated with forward head posture can, also, create sleeping difficulties. As many people know, it is difficult to sleep in discomfort. Insomnia may occur producing further stressors and problems in one’s daily life. Lack of sleep and being worried about lack of sleep may be consuming. Although at this point it may be hard to motivate yourself to do the exercises to fix the root of the problem, even a little bit every day can eventually lead to a solution. See below for our tips and suggestions when motivation to complete the recommended exercises is lacking.

 

  • SOCIAL EFFECTS

 

Forward Head Posture does not only have physical implications but can impact your social and mental health as well. With the forward weight of the head, a hunch can emerge in the thoracic spine. Aesthetically, this can become visually obvious and decrease self-esteem and confidence. For vulnerable populations, such as during the teenage years, it can have a wide range of impacts on one’s mental health. 

 

Many teens are already struggling with the immense changes that occur during puberty. It can cause many to become withdrawn from social situations and decrease positive development during these years. Further, being in pain most of the time can lead to lack of wanting to expose oneself to further discomforts, such as that possibly in social gatherings. 

 Realistically, these mental health fluxes and social withdrawals can happen at any age with forward head posture. Many health professionals illustrate how our physical demure can impact our mood, stress levels, and feelings. Correcting postural deficits can build back confidence and boost mood. A simple correction can surprisingly have huge positive mental health impacts. Thus, this supplies another reason as to why postural correction exercises over time can be highly beneficial.

 


 

HOW TO FIX FORWARD HEAD POSTURE

 

Despite the chain of events that may ensue with forward head posture, the condition is reversible. Time and effort, regarding completing appropriate rehabilitation exercises, and ensuring aspects of your everyday life support proper spinal alignment can be valuable in fixing the problem. 

 

Before starting any exercise program, always consult with your local healthcare provider. Physical therapy may be recommended in conjunction with exercises to ensure you get the proper supervision and education regarding your condition. Further, a physical therapist may provide manual therapy techniques, such as massage and decompression that can help reduce the associated pain. 

 

 

The following exercises can help prevent and reverse the effects of forward head posture. A proper warm-up involving 5-10 minutes of cardio, such as the bike, the treadmill, or skipping, should be completed before beginning a strengthening program. Warming up the muscles primes that body for exercise and can prevent injury from occurring or recurring. 

 

 

There are tips under each exercise description that outline cautions or cues to keep in mind when performing them. If you are unsure where and how to get started, we have provided a basic starter rehab program, below the exercise descriptions. Be aware that it may depend on your situation on how fast you progress or where your starting point is. 

 

 

STRENGTHENING EXERCISES

 


 

CHIN RETRACTION EXERCISE

 

The chin retraction exercise targets the deep neck flexors. These muscles are located in the front of the neck, behind the windpipe.  Numerous studies have shown that there is a relationship between desk neck, also called forward head posture, and lack of endurance of the deep neck flexor muscles.8 Retraining and re-activating these muscles can help with support of the head and re-alignment of the neck.

 

BEGINNER:

 

The beginner version of this exercise uses a bed or mat to support the spine and maintain a neutral position. Further, it lacks gravity as resistance in the specified starting position allowing movement to occur easier. 

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Lie flat on your back on a mat or a bed, without a pillow. If needed, a small towel can be rolled and placed in the curve of the neck for support.
  2. Without lifting the back of your head off the mat or ground, slowly bring the chin toward the chest.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds, and do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • If it is painful pressing the chin to the chest, ease off a bit and only press the chin toward the chest as far as you can, without pain.  If pain still occurs, try the stretches below and attempt the exercise on a different day when pain levels are not as high.
  • If you are unsure that you are targeting the deep neck flexor muscles, place your hands on either side of your neck (or have a friend or your physical therapist check), and check to see if the large muscles on the sides of the neck are contracting. They should be relatively relaxed giving way for the deep neck flexor muscles to perform the movement.

 


 

INTERMEDIATE:

 

The intermediate version of the chin tuck exercise is performed upright to enable you to find that proper alignment in a common daily position.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Stand tall with your back against a wall.
  2. Keeping your head against the wall, slowly bring the chin toward the chest.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds, and do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • Similar to the beginner exercise, if it is painful pressing the chin to the chest, ease off a bit and only press the chin toward the chest as far as you can, without pain.  Make sure to not hunch the back and to maintain a straight posture throughout the exercise.

 

 


 

ADVANCED:

 

The advanced version of this exercise is completed against gravity, on all fours. This is training you to maintain a proper spinal alignment while strengthening the deep neck flexor muscles.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Start on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
  2. Keeping your back in a neutral position and the head in line with the rest of the spine, slowly bring your chin to your chest.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds, and do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • If painful, stop or ease off the exercise.
  • If you are unsure if you are keeping your back straight, have a friend watch you or use a mirror to provide feedback.

 

 


 

SCAPULAR ADDUCTION EXERCISE

 

The Scapular Adduction Exercise focuses on postural correction of the thoracic region and shoulders. Forward head posture can be due to poor postural habits. This exercise strengthens the middle and lower trapezius muscles responsible for keeping your shoulders back and preventing you from hunching forward. Many health care professionals consider this valuable, specifically early on in treatment, to begin activating and re-awakening those postural muscles that have likely been neglected over time.

 

BEGINNER:

 

The beginner version of this exercise can be done almost anywhere.  It is essentially focusing on re-activating the middle and lower trapezius muscles and opening up the chest. 

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Stand or sit tall with your arms relaxed at your sides.
  2. Gently pinch the shoulder blades down and in. Do not shrug the shoulders.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds, and do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • If it is painful pinching the shoulder blades down and in, ease off a tiny bit and pinch down less or hold for only a few seconds to start.
  • If you are unsure if you are properly doing the exercise, have a friend or family member check your shoulder blades behind to make sure you are bringing them down and in toward the mid-back.

 

 


 

INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED:

 

The intermediate version of the scapular adduction exercise involves adding resistance to the movement. The seated row can be done via a machine at the gym or with the use of a resistance band.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Sit tall in a chair, with the band wrapped around a secure object in front of you. Hold one end of the band in each hand, with your arms straight out in front.
  2. Pinch your shoulder blades down and in and slowly bend your elbows, bringing your arms back along your sides.
  3. Slowly return to the start position. Do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • Do not arch the back throughout the exercise. You want to make sure you are using the trapezius muscles and rhomboids in the mid-back to pull the band toward you. It may be beneficial to engage the core to prevent back arching (the transverse abdominal exercise below may aid in this respect).

 

 


 

ARM EXTERNAL ROTATION EXERCISE

 

External rotation of the arms can further strengthen the mid-back postural muscles helping with re-alignment. This exercise, similar to the seated row, can be done using a resistance band or sometimes using a weight machine at the gym.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Sit tall in a chair, with your elbows bent at 90 degrees at the sides of your body.
  2. Hold the end of a resistance band in each hand.
  3. Keeping your elbows at 90 degrees, slowly pull your hands outward and pinch your shoulder blades down and in
  4. Slowly return to the start position. Do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • Do not arch the back throughout the exercise.
  • The upper arm should remain relatively in the same spot throughout the exercise. If you are having trouble keeping the elbows close to the sides of your body, place a pillow on either side between your elbows and your body.
  • When forward head posture is fixed and if you continue to do this exercises, it may be beneficial to balance it out with an internal rotation exercise for the shoulders.

 

 


 

SERRATUS ANTERIOR PUNCH

 

The serratus anterior muscle is a tiny muscle located just below the armpit between the 1st and 8th rib, attaching to the scapula on the back. This muscle helps in stabilization and protraction of the scapula and is often weak in the case of forward head posture. Properly strengthening these muscles may prevent compensation via postural irregularities. The serratus anterior punch exercise will require a resistant band or a cable, pulleys, and weight system. 

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Wrap the resistant band around your shoulders and hold the end of each band with both hands (or stand holding a pulley with one hand facing away from the weights).
  2. Set the shoulder blades by pinching down and in.
  3. Punch both hands forward, straightening the elbows and going against the resistance of the band or weights.
  4. Slowly return to the start position. Do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions for each side.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • Do not lead forward as you punch and straighten the arms.
  • Be aware of your posture during this exercise. Try to maintain upright without intentionally driving the head forward with the hands.
  • If standing is uncomfortable for this exercise, it can also be completed from a lying down, face-up position using a band or dumbbells.

 

   

STRETCHING EXERCISES

 

  

PECTORALIS STRETCH

 

Pectoralis major and pectoralis minor make up the chest muscles. Desk neck causes hunching of the body forward as the head weighs down and pulls on the spine and muscles. Consequently, the pec muscles become shortened and tight. This often creates issues of space in the thoracic cavity and can place pressure on the internal organs, such as the lungs. The pectoralis stretch releases these tight muscles and opens up the chest, bringing the shoulders back and allowing for proper re-alignment of the spine. Two versions of the stretch have been provided below. Do the one that is most comfortable and does not cause pain. 

 

VERSION ONE:

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Stand tall in a doorway or corner.
  2. Place your hands and forearms at eye level on the wall or doorframe.
  3. Carefully step one foot forward.
  4. Keeping the hands and forearms on the wall, lean the chest forward. You should feel a gentle stretch through both sides of the chest.
  5. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds and do 2-3 times a day.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • Do not arch the back throughout the exercise (stepping the foot forward should help prevent this from occurring).
  • If it is painful, do not lean as far forward or stop the exercise.

 

 


 

VERSION TWO:

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Stand tall next to a wall.
  2. Place the hand and forearm of one arm completely on the wall at about eye level, with the elbow bent.
  3. Slowly twist the body away from the wall.
  4. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds and do 2-3 times a day for each side.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • Do not arch the back throughout the exercise. If needed, engage the core to prevent this. Try to maintain a straight posture.
  • If it is painful, do not twist your body as far away from the wall. We want to feel a gentle stretch through the chest, not pain.

 

 


 

UPPER TRAPEZIUS STRETCH

 

The upper trapezius muscle is responsible for elevating the shoulders upward. These muscles become tight in a forward head posture causing limitations on range of motion and causing pain. This stretch can help release the tightness located along the top of the shoulders and upper back, and help in increasing neck range of motion. 

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Sit tall in a chair, and place your right hand underneath your buttocks.
  2. Bring your left ear toward your left shoulder.
  3. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat for the opposite side, and do 2-3 times a day.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • If you feel you do not get enough of a stretch by just bringing the ear toward the shoulder, use the same side hand to pull the head a tiny bit. If there is pain, stop or ease off the stretch.
  • Only bend the head as far as you comfortably can.

 

 


 

LEVATOR SCAPULAE STRETCH

 

Desk neck can, also, cause shortening of the levator scapulae muscle which stems from the first cervical vertebrae to the top of the shoulder blades. When individuals complain of a tight or stiff neck and shoulder, often the levator scapulae muscle is tight. Similar to the trapezius muscle, a tight levator scapulae muscle can decrease the range of motion and cause tenderness and pain in the neck. Stretching it can help reduce the tightness and regain back mobility.  

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Sit tall in a chair, and place your right hand underneath your buttocks.
  2. Slowly look toward your left armpit, bringing the head to the side.
  3. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat for the opposite side, and do 2-3 times a day.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • If you feel you do not get enough of a stretch by just moving the head toward the armpit, use the same side hand to pull the head a tiny bit. If there is pain, stop or ease off the stretch.
  • Only bend the head as far as you comfortably can.

 

 


 

SUBOCCIPITAL STRETCH

 

The base of the skull is home to the suboccipital muscles. These muscles, also, are associated with tightness and pain related to forward head posture. As mentioned above, when these muscles are tight tension headaches can occur. Stretching and practicing the range of motion of the neck, including flexion and extension, can help release these muscles, preventing headaches and fixing forward head posture. Further, using a tennis ball may help release tension in the suboccipital muscles. The tennis ball method follows the gentle range of motion stretching instructions.

 

SUBOCCIPITAL STRETCHING:

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Sit tall in a chair, with your chin parallel to the ground.
  2. Slowly bring your chin toward your chest, flexing the neck.
  3. You should feel a gentle stretch at the base of the skull.  Hold for about 15 seconds.
  4. Slowly extend the neck back as far as you comfortably can, and hold for another 15 seconds.
  5. Repeat 3-5 times, 2-3 times a day.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • If you want more of a stretch in the suboccipital muscles, you may hold the flexed neck up to 30 seconds. However, only do this a maximum of 2-3 times a day with no repetitions. Overstretching can cause other unnecessary issues.

 

 


 

RELEASING THE SUBOCCIPITALS WITH THE USE OF A TENNIS BALL:

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Place two tennis balls in a sock.
  2. Lay back on mat and position the two tennis balls at the base of your skull.
  3. Hold the position over tender spots on these muscles. You may also slowly roll it in a small circular motion or back and forth.
  4. Do this for 30 seconds to 1 minutes and a half. You may complete this release technique 2-3 times a day.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • It should feel like a “good pain,” as if the pressure is releasing the tightness. If the pain increases substantially or something doesn’t feel right, stop.
  • Do not do huge circular motions or roll the balls over the spine.

 

 

 


 

STERNOCLEIDOMASTOID STRETCH

 

The sternocleidomastoid is the biggest muscle in the neck. It is responsible for the flexion and side to side movements of the neck. When you tilt your head forward, these muscles contract and shorten. In desk neck, the sternocleidomastoid muscles on either side of the neck become consistently shortened and tight. Releasing the tension in these muscles can help ease the neck back into proper spinal alignment and improve mobility.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:  

 

  1. Sit tall in a chair, with your chin parallel to the ground.
  2. Slightly tilt the head back and to the side.
  3. Hold the position for 20-30 seconds and do 2-3 times a day. Repeat for the opposite side.

 

TIPS:  

 

  • If you want more of a stretch, you may use your hand to pull the head further.
  • If there is pain, ease off the stretch, hold for less amount of time, or stop altogether.

 

 


 

NECK RANGE OF MOTION PRACTICE

 

Actively moving the neck through the different directions helps to maintain and improve neck range of motion and mobility that is jeopardized by desk neck. It can further help relieve the tight muscles that aid in neck movements and help reduce associated neck pain.

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

 

  1. Stand or sit tall, with your shoulders down and back.
  2. Look straight ahead.
  3. Slowly turn your head and look over your shoulder to one side.
  4. Slowly turn your head and look over your shoulder to the other side.
  5. Slowly bring one ear down toward one shoulder.
  6. Slowly bring your opposite ear down toward the opposite shoulder.
  7. Slowly look up toward the sky.
  8. Slowly look down your toes.
  9. Repeat each way 8-10 times, 2-3 times a day.

 

TIPS:

 

  • Only bend the neck in each direction as far as it is comfortable. If pain occurs, stop before this point and before continuing in the opposite direction.

 


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