If so, why should you see your physio?
One of the factors physiotherapists consider when assessing your problem is the way your posture may be contributing to the development of pain and reduced function. With regards to your head and neck, your physiotherapist will be on the look out for something called "forward head posture".
What is forward head posture?
The picture in this article shows an example of forward head posture (FHP). Ideally, when viewed from the side, your head should sit directly above your shoulders. If your head sits forward of this position, this is termed FHP. There are varying degrees of FHP, however, most people can identify it easily. You may need to view a side view photo to pick it up on yourself, or ask a family member or friend to see if you have FHP. You can check your family and friends to see if they have FHP.
What effect does FHP have on your body?
Your head is quite heavy. In most adults it is roughly the weight of a bowling ball. For every inch your head sits forward, your neck is subjected to compressive forces equivalent to an extra 100% of the weight of the head. This means that, if your head sits forward 3 inches, and your head weighs 5 kg; an extra 15 kg of compression passes through the neck. This small amount of FHP causes increases in the contraction of your neck muscles by 50%, as they strain to hold your head upright against the forces of gravity.
Over time, your neck joints are continually compressed. Many of your neck muscles tighten up, due to continual tension, whilst others weaken due to disuse.
What problems can it cause?
Because of the increased compressive forces through the neck joints and increased muscle tension, pain is the common outcome. Some of the types of problems associated with FHP are:
- Neck discomfort
- Muscle tension in the neck and shoulders
- Discomfort in the mid back
- Chest pain
- Pain, pins & needles and numbness in the arms and hands
Many people develop chronic or recurrent problems because they receive treatment for the pain (e.g. pain killers or anti-inflammatory medication) but never receive treatment for the underlying cause which is their FHP.
Can it be treated?
Often simple corrective exercises can help improve a FHP. Your physiotherapist is the best person to help you with these. The younger a person is, the better the chance of completely correcting a developing FHP. It is unrealistic to expect that an older person with a FHP for many years will attain full correction. A few millimetres of improvement may, however, lead to a vast reduction in pain and other symptoms.
If you suffer from the recurrent or chronic problems outlined here, you need to take the first step. Find out whether you have FHP and have your physiotherapist start a corrective program for you.