The rise of technology is having a profound effect on our health, habits and most notably our posture.
Wherever you go you will see many people standing, walking or sitting whilst looking down at their mobile device screen. If you didn’t know, looking down at your screen all day can, and will, give you forward head posture.
Forward head posture (FHP) is a common postural misalignment that is characterized by a forward jutting of the head in relation to the rest of the body.
Not only does forward head posture negatively affect one’s appearance, but it can also cause other serious health problems.
Forward head posture can also cause discomfort and pain at the back of the neck and all the way down to the shoulders. Forward head posture can also cause nerve impingement, as well as upper back and shoulder issues.
In this article, we’ll discuss exactly what forward head posture is, how it develops, and what you can do to prevent it.
We’ll also provide you with a few simple exercises and stretches that can be done at home to correct the postural problems that lead to forward head posture.
What is Forward Head Posture?
Forward head posture is a postural misalignment that usually occurs as a result of kyphosis (the exaggerated rounding forward of the upper back and shoulders).
There are several causes for kyphosis, including injury and overuse of the muscles, but the most common cause of kyphosis is poor posture.
When poor posture is maintained over a long period of time, the chest, neck and shoulder muscles tighten and shorten, while the upper back muscles lengthen and weaken.
When this happens, the shoulders are drawn into a hunched position, causing the neck and head to slump forward.
Forward head posture is frequently seen in individuals who work at a desk for long periods of time.
Long hours spent in front of the TV, playing video games, or looking down at a smartphone are other common culprits of forward head posture.
In addition to altering one’s appearance, forward head posture can lead to neck pain, decreased range of movement in the neck and shoulders, and other health issues.
Why Does the Head Move Forward?
Think of a bowling bowl balancing on top of a long malleable metal pole. If you were to place a small bend at the top of the pole it’s likely that the bowling bowl will begin to weigh down and start to cause the pole to bend even more. Over time it will bend more and more.
This is similar to what happens in forward head posture if you continually look down, where your head is the bowling ball and the pole is your spine.
You may think that your head isn’t as heavy as a bowling ball, but you may be surprised to know the average human head weighs 10-11 lbs (4.5 -5 kg).
As discussed before, looking down at your phone all day or being hunched in front of your computer screen will put your neck in this compromised position.
Over time, your muscles and tissues will adapt to the positions that we hold them in for lengthy periods.
Correct posture should be where the ear, shoulder, hip, knees and ankle are in a straight line. With forward head posture, the ears will not be inline.
Symptoms of Forward Head Posture
In the short-term, forward head posture can lead to chronic or reoccurring neck pain, joint stiffness, shoulder pain, and upper back pain.
Forward head posture may also cause chronic tension headaches due to the tightness of the suboccipital muscles, which connect the top of the neck to the base of the skull.
Other common symptoms associated with forward head posture are:
- Decreased range of motion
- Rounded shoulders
- Myofascial trigger points and pain
- Reduced lung capacity
- Tingling in the hands, arms, and fingers
If left untreated, the excess stress placed on the spinal column due to forward head posture can contribute to even more serious conditions such as disc herniation, degenerative joint disease, nerve impingement, and osteoporosis.
Forward Head Posture Treatment Options
Mild or moderate neck pain is usually not a great concern and can usually be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, cold compresses, and rest.
Severe or persistent neck pain, on the other hand, may be indicative of an underlying problem.
In this case, it’s a good idea to seek professional medical treatment.
The most common treatments for forward head posture are chiropractic adjustment, physical therapy, and exercise.
Depending on the severity of the condition and level of pain, a cervical spine specialist may recommend one or a combination of these treatments.
Medication may also be prescribed to help reduce neck pain.
In addition to providing treatment for neck pain, chiropractors and physical therapists will recommend exercises that can be performed at home and suggest lifestyle changes to prevent forward head posture from reoccurring.
How to Correct Forward Head Posture on Your Own
Numerous studies have confirmed the effectiveness of neck exercises and stretches in correcting forward head posture.
Specifically, exercises and stretches that target the weakened muscles of the upper back (such as the upper trapezius, levator scapulae, and latissmus dorsi) and stretching the tight, shortened muscles of the neck and chest (such as the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and neck flexors) have been found to significantly reduce kyphosis and, in turn, help correct forward head posture.
To fix your forward head posture, the key is to reverse all the muscle imbalances that have been caused by having your neck in a forward position.
Specifically, some muscles will become too tight, and some will become too long and weak.
Hence, we want to loosen the tight muscles and strengthen the weak ones.
So which muscles are affected and how are they affected?
- The muscle at the back of your neck (neck extensors, suboccipital) will be too tight.
- The muscle at the side of your neck (the Sternocleidomastoideus), gets too tight. This muscle attaches behind your ear and wraps itself around the neck to the front. If this is too tight, it pulls your head forward.
- The muscles at the front of your neck which sit on either side of the throat, the deep cervical flexors, will be too weak. Holding your head in a forward position causes them to switch off because they are no longer needed to hold your head up.
The goal of fixing your forward head posture is to reverse these points.
Watch These Important Videos
If you are going to pay attention to anything in this post, it is highly recommended that you make watching these two listed videos as your priority. Yes, you can even skip what is written in this post if you have to!
These two videos will help you learn everything you need to know about forward head posture and how to fix it.
All the steps compiled in the rest of the post expands upon the exercises and stretches from these two videos.
This video has a comprehensive neck stretch, and two exercises you can do to fix your forward head posture.
This video has a great explanation of the muscle imbalances that create forward head posture, as well as a modification to the wall lean exercise described below.
Stretches and Exercises to Fix Forward Head Posture
In this section, we’ll provide you with a few simple exercises and stretches that can be performed at home, without any exercise equipment.
It’s important to keep in mind that these exercises are not meant to replace professional medical treatment. If you are experiencing persistent or reoccurring neck pain due to forward head posture, consult with your physician to rule out an underlying condition.
If you haven’t watched the two videos above you should do so now, as all the ideas for these stretches and exercises are from those videos.
1. Release the Tight Neck Muscles
The first step is to release the tightness in the Sternocleidomastoideus muscle.
It may sound intimidating but it’s very easy to do.
First, you need to locate the muscle. The muscle starts just behind the ear around the earlobe and runs down the front of your neck. If you have located it properly, when you squeeze it near the top it should feel rather thick then gets thinner as you run down it.
To release it, simply run your fingers up and down it applying a bit of pressure. After running your fingers back a forth a few times, make tiny circles with your fingers on the muscle, then make your way down to the base of the neck. You only need to do this for a minute or so.
If you need more release or are having difficulty locating it, watch the video above.
2. Release the Back of the Neck
Now that those muscles have been loosened, the next step is to massage the muscle that runs down either side of the back of the neck.
You can get someone else to massage it, or use a massage ball, but the most effective way is usually by using a peanut massage ball.
Place the peanut on the floor and gently lower the back of your neck onto it. Slowly roll up to the top of your neck and back to the top of your shoulder blades. You can lift up your hips to increase pressure, but be careful not to put too much pressure on the neck.
3. Stretch the Neck
Stretching your neck is a good way to deal with the tightness that accompanies forward head posture. As a general rule you want to target the sides and back (scalenes, suboccipital, Sternocleidomastoideus) of your neck by moving your head around and holding for at least 30 seconds when you feel a tight area. Remember to be gentle.
For an effective targeted neck stretch. Watch the video shown above.
4. Wall Lean Exercise
The Wall Lean Exercise will help strengthen the front of the neck to push your head back.
Watch the video below to learn how to do this exercise.
Note that you can also do this exercise on the floor (instructions below).
- Lay on your back with your knees bent.
- Tuck your chin close to your chest, then push your head into the ground.
- Try to push your neck into the floor whilst holding the position. Don’t push too hard.
- Consciously think about the muscle in the front of your throat and making sure they are being activated. You may not feel it at first but learn to notice it.
5. Chin Tucks
If you do not want to use the wall lean exercise shown above, you can instead try the chin tuck exercise.
The chin tuck is one of the most effective exercises for correcting forward head posture and relieving neck pain. This exercise stretches tight scalene and suboccipital muscles while strengthening the upper thoracic extensors.
To perform a chin tuck, start in a standing position and place the tip of a finger on your chin. Tuck your chin down toward your chest and push the head backward with your finger.
Hold this position for 3 to 5 seconds, then release. Repeat the exercise 10 times.
6. Prone Cobra Exercise
Simply doing the wall lean exercises daily will help with your forward head posture, but you can also add the prone cobra exercise to your routine to fix other issues that often accompany forward head posture such as rounded shoulders.
This exercise helps to push your head back as well as strengthen your upper back to help pull your shoulders back.
7. Doorway Pec Stretch
People with forward head posture will almost always have a problem with rounded shoulders too which is the result of tight pectorals.
This exercise helps stretch tight chest and shoulder muscle, thus improving your overall posture, and relieving pressure on the cervical spine.
To perform this simple, yet effective stretch, start with your hands on either side of a doorway. Lunge forward until you feel a stretch across the chest and shoulders. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 3 times.
If your pecs are particularly tight you may also need to release the pecs using self-massage. See our post on how to effectively stretch the pecs for more information.
8. Tension Relief for Forward Head Posture
Myofascial release eases tension in the neck and shoulder, increases range of mobility, and relieves many secondary symptoms associated with forward head posture, such as tension headaches.
You can perform this treatment on yourself using a massage ball, or even a tennis ball.
Once you have a good massage ball, you can either use a wall, like the video above, or lie on the ground.
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent up, and place the ball under your traps. Planting your feet on the ground, roll your lower neck and upper back over the ball, focusing on tender spots.
9. Plank for an Extra Posture Boost
Strong core muscles are the key to maintaining good posture. The plank is a simple core exercise that can be done anywhere without any equipment.
To perform a plank, lay on the floor as if you’re about to do a pushup. Keeping your palms down and elbows in line with your shoulders, push your upper body up until you’re resting on your forearms.
At the same time, push your lower body up onto your toes. Hold this position for 20 seconds, making sure your head stays in line with your back. Perform the plank exercise 3 times daily.
How to Prevent Forward Head Posture
There’s no point doing all these exercises if you continue to put your head in a compromised position and reinforce your bad posture.
You may have to be a little conscious of when you put your head in a forward position.
While you may not be able to prevent an injury or accident, there are a few simple steps you can take to improve your posture and prevent forward head posture from developing or worsening.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School offer the following tips to prevent forward head posture and neck pain.
- Keep your head in line with your shoulders. Avoid the tendency to jut your chin forward when walking, sitting, or working at a desk.
- Make sure your computer monitor, tablet, or book is at eye level. You can adjust your work level by lowering your chair, changing the placement of your monitor and keyboard, or using an adjustable desk.
- Take frequent breaks when sitting for long periods of time. If necessary, set a timer to remind you to stand up, walk around, and stretch at least once every hour.
- Use lumbar support. Invest in an ergonomic office chair that can be adjusted to support your lower back when sitting. Alternatively, you can use a lumbar support cushion.
- When looking at your phone try to hold your phone higher and closer to eye level, or simply, use your phone less. There’s no need to be glued to your phone all day. Get outside and look around, explore!
- Forward head posture does not often happen in isolation. You may find you have other posture problems. Forward head posture is usually accompanied by rounded shoulders and a rounded upper back. You will want to fix these in conjunction with your forward head posture.
- How thick is your pillow? If you have too thick a pillow it can push your head forward far out of line with the rest of your body. When you hold this position overnight, the muscles adapt to this position. Consider getting a thinner pillow or an orthopaedic pillow.
Correcting your Posture Takes Time
Your forward head posture didn’t happen overnight but most probably developed over years of bad habits.
The body, however, is extremely adaptive and a wonderful piece of equipment. It will respond positively if you are more conscious of how you use it and use exercises to correct your weaknesses.
Your body will also be happy you’ve made these changes and reward you with better mood, positivity and happiness. Fixing your forward head posture is well worth the effort.
While forward head posture is a manageable condition, the most effective way to avoid the neck pain and other health issues associated with FHP is to prevent it from developing in the first place.
That said, the information in this guide is not intended to replace professional medical advice.
If you continue to experience pain after trying the above exercises and stretches, consult with your doctor to rule out an underlying illness.