Thanks in no small part to a reliance on and addiction to technology, a sedentary lifestyle has become the norm. As a result, good posture has never been more important, but unfortunately, our obsession with smartphones has made many of us develop forward head posture instead.
When you’re hunched over, your back, neck and shoulders are misaligned, causing a ripple effect that impacts many aspects of your health.
Would you be surprised to find out that your head position can actually impact your mood and brain function? It’s that serious and can lead to other health issues like chronic fatigue and even asthma.
Thankfully, there are easy ways to support the health of your spine and reduce the risk of posture side effects. You can stretch, exercise, seek professional assistance and simply reduce the amount of time you spend on a small devices.
What Is Forward Head Posture?
Forward head posture is, as the name implies, when the head is positioned forward. This has also been dubbed the “iHunch” or “iPosture” because it often occurs when we are using our smartphones or engaging in screen time.
Why is this bad? Every time we lean forward 60 degrees, the stress on our necks is increased by approximately 60 pounds.
In fact, every time you move your head forward an inch, an extra 10 pounds of weight is added to your neck. As a result, forward head posture leads to chronic pain, numbness in the arms and hands, a stiff neck, improper breathing, and pinched nerves.
That’s not all. It turns out, forward head posture doesn’t just affect us physically — it affects our mood as well.
Thanks in no small part to our smartphone addiction, aka nomophobia, most of us are constantly putting undue strain on our necks and spinal cords, which has adverse effects on our emotions.
A lot of the poor posture out there, whether it’s slumping or forward head posture, is the result of the devices we use. From computers to tablets to smartphones, these screens all require different angles to utilize, all of which throw our posture off.
It turns out, the size of device matters — but it’s not what you may think. Instead of larger devices causing more problems, the opposite seems to be true.
That’s because the smaller the device, the more we must adjust our head or neck positions forward.
Harvard Business School’s Maarten W. Cuddy and Amy J.C. Bos also conducted their own preliminary research on iHunch in their study, “iPosture: The Size of Electronic Consumer Devices Affects our Behavior.” Using an iPod Touch, iPad, MacBook Pro and an iMac, participants were assigned one of the devices.
Cuddy and Bos found, as they hypothesized, that those working on smaller devices behaved more submissively, while those who used larger devices were more assertive.
How It Affects Mood and Brain Function
Did you know that the position of your head can actually impact your mood and brain function? That’s right: Not only do asthma and heart disease begin in your neck, but so do brain health and the way you feel.
Posture has an impact on feelings of stress, mood, memory and even behavior. A 2010 study conducted in Brazil examined posture and body image in people with major depressive disorder.
Over 10 weeks, 34 participants with depression and 37 healthy volunteers had their posture assessed. Researchers found that patients’ posture changed, including instances of forward head posture, during episodes of depression, and there was a “mild dissatisfaction with body image.”
Further, the Department of Clinical Psychology at the University of Hildesheim in Germany gathered 30 depressed inpatients to “investigate the effects of sitting posture on the tendency of depressed individuals to recall a higher proportion of negative self-referent material.”
The findings showed that posture can affect memory. After being randomly assigned to sit in a slouched or upright position, the people who sat upright showed no bias in word recall while those who slumped recalled mostly negative words.
The position of our heads has been shown to affect stress response too. In 2015, Health Psychology: The Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association published the results of a randomized trial on how posture affects stress responses.
Seventy-four participants were randomly assigned to either upright or slumped seated posture. For the experiment, participants’ backs were strapped to hold the assigned posture.
The “upright participants reported higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood, and lower fear, compared to slumped participants.” In addition, those sitting in a slumped position “used more negative emotion words, first-person singular pronouns, affective process words, sadness words, and fewer positive emotion words and total words during the speech.”
Researchers concluded that good posture in the face of stress maintains self-esteem, improves mood, increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Meanwhile, poor head position actually resulted in more stress, potentially leading to chronic stress.
Posture even seems to influence behavior. A study in Japan worked to correct elementary students’ head and shoulder positions, focusing on all four major components of posture: feet, buttocks, back and the entire body.
After practicing and promoting good posture in class, not only did posture increase roughly 20 percent to 90 percent in students, but students’ classroom performance improved as well.
Pain and Headaches
One of the most prevalent and destructive imbalances has to do with the cervical curve, the natural curve in the vertebrae of the neck. When we lose the proper curvature of the cervical and lumbar curves, we lose as much as 50 percent of our spinal strength.
For every inch that your head is held forward (rather than balanced properly over the body), it gains 10 pounds of weight. The back and neck muscles have to work that much harder to keep your chin off your chest and the muscles of your chin stay in constant contraction.
This compresses nerves and leads to tension headaches at the base of the skull or those that mimic sinus headaches.
According to former University of Southern California’s director of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Rene Cailliet, forward head posture can add up to 30 pounds of abnormal leverage, pulling “the entire spine out of alignment” and “may result in the loss of 30% of vital lung capacity.”
Chiropractor Adam Meade explains that the curve of your cervical vertebrae are referred to as “the arc of life” by neurosurgeons because these bones protect the brain stem and are the thoroughfare for spinal nerves that affect every organ and function in the body.
Subluxation is the term for the compression and irritation of nerves because of misalignments of the spine. When the cervical curve is misaligned, the spinal cord stretches and shrinks in circumference, Meade says, losing nerve conductivity.
Chiropractors make adjustments to the spine and help teach clients posture and habits that reverse these misalignments, restoring the body’s natural functions and healing capabilities.
Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction
At the 1997 Seattle Fibromyalgia International Team Conference, Dr. Herbert Gordon explained that head and neck posture is a major factor in the fatigue and immune dysfunction in sufferers of fibromyalgia (FMS), chronic fatigue and immune system dysfunction syndrome patients.
The clusters of small, layered muscles at the top of the spine can begin to atrophy in as little as 20 minutes, Gordon said, when unused. He reported that a 1985 study found postural problems common in people who suffer from FMS, myofascial pain syndrome and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain.
The study found poor sitting and standing posture in 96 percent of the cases, forward head posture in 85 percent of the cases, and forward and rounded shoulders in 82 percent of the cases.
This is important because there are many issues that forward head posture can play a part in. It can cause:
- Aches, fatigue, pain
- Disc compression
- Early arthritis
- TMJ pain
- Altered blood flow
As forward head posture decreases lung capacity, it can lead to asthma, blood vessel problems and heart disease. The oxygen deficit affects the entire gastrointestinal system and can decrease endorphin production.
This turns the perception of non-painful sensation into pain experiences.
The position of your neck and shoulders will change throughout the day, depending of your activities and exercise routine. Unfortunately, as smartphone and technology use becomes so much more prominent in our lives, our heads are fixed in the same position for several hours at a time.
The more sedentary time we have in a day, the higher the risk of dealing with repercussions of forward head posture.
Forward head posture is caused by:
- Computer and phone use: Dr. Dean Fishman has seen increasing cases of forward head posture in young patients and termed the condition “text neck.” He says that the degenerative bone changes and abnormal cervical curve in these younger patients is related to the use of handheld devices, such as cell phones, portable video games and e-readers.
- Video games: Hunching over to play video games for several hours a day can have a lasting impact. This is especially true for games that are played in a sedentary, seated position, which has been shown in research. The placement of shoulders, neck and head while playing games, sometimes for hours at a time, can lead to neck pain and other side effects.
- Backpacks: A 1999 study published in the November issue of Spine took a look at 985 students from five different high school years and the effects of carrying backpacks. The postural changes that occurred in “the arc of life” were significant with backpack use in every case. The weight of the backpack did not matter as much as the age and sex of students. Younger students had the greatest deformity of posture, and the oldest girls also incurred strong forward head posture.
- Trauma: Trauma leading to forward head posture can come in the form of car accidents, slips or falls, or even birthing trauma from forceps or vacuums.
How to Correct Forward Head Posture
Is forward head posture correctable? The good news is there are many steps you can take to correct your slumping or forward head posture, which can help resolve neck pain and other side effects.
For instance, you can try Egoscue, a postural therapy designed to eliminate chronic pain without drugs or surgery. It’s a great way to improve posture, which can also relieve tension headaches as an added bonus.
Chiropractic adjustments can also help relieve joint pain and promote better posture. A wellness or corrective care chiropractor can measure the curve of your “arc of life,” give you regular adjustments, lead you in spinal rehabilitation exercises, and teach you postural and working habits that will greatly improve your health and quality of life.
To support posture, reduce neck pain and improve shoulder pain, you can always incorporate stretches and posture exercises. These exercises include:
- arm circles
- arm closes
- cats and dogs
- lateral raises (straight and bent)
Regular exercise also helps fix your posture with simple movements. It helps to strengthen your shoulder muscles and neck muscles, build core strength, and reduce the amount of sedentary time you have in a day.
Remember that to fix forward head posture, you’ll have to practice these stretches, exercises and other simple lifestyle changes every day. It won’t happen overnight, but with time, you’ll notice a difference in your neck muscles and shoulder blades.
It’s also important to be mindful of your screen time and take frequent breaks to stretch.
- Forward head posture leads to chronic pain, numbness in the upper body, like the arms and hands, improper breathing, and pinched nerves. But that’s not all. It can also affect our mood and cause side effects like chronic fatigue.
- Improper posture also has been shown to increase the risk of depression, memory, stress response, self-esteem, body image, and even brain function and behavior.
- To fix forward head posture, use new exercises like Egoscue, chiropractic adjustments, posture exercises and daily general exercise.