Easy Exercises to Fix Forward Head Posture

Woman rubbing neck at gym

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Forward head posture (FHP) is a complication of the combination of slouched-forward shoulders and rounded upper back (kyphosis) that has become a common result of modern-day living and working. This "humpback" position can lead to a painful shortening of the muscles of the back of the neck, as well as compression of the cervical vertebrae—the uppermost portion of the spine that supports the head and protects the spinal cord.

Here's why: When your shoulders and upper back round forward and down, your head naturally follows, pulling your gaze downward as well. In order to see what's in front of you—say, your computer screen or the view out of the front windshield—you need to lift your head. Doing so causes your jaw to jut forward and creates a sharp crease in the back of your neck where there should instead be a straight line extending from the back of your head to the middle of your upper back.

Other situations that can contribute to forward head posture resulting from kyphosis include constantly looking down at a cell phone, tablet, or another device; doing close work, such as sewing; and frequently carrying a significant amount of weight, such as a child, in front of your body.

Why Exercise Is the Best Fix

Any ergonomic changes you can make to your workspace, environment, or lifestyle habits that make sitting or standing upright more comfortable will help reduce the risk of forward head posture. However, this may not be enough.

A 2017 study comparing targeted exercise to workstation modification for reducing office-related neck, shoulder, and back pain found exercise was the more effective approach. What's more, the subjects in the study who exercised began to feel better in just four months.

A Mini-Workout for Forward Head Posture

These three exercises are designed to address the individual problems that contribute to forward head posture, including kyphosis. It's best to perform them in one quick session (although you can do cervical retraction throughout the day as well).

Cervical Retraction

Cervical means neck and retraction means to bring back. In this key posture exercise, the goal is to bring your head back in line with your cervical spine.

  1. Start by sitting up straight on a chair.
  2. Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest.
  3. Holding the tuck and press the back of your head toward the wall behind you. It will feel as if you're moving your head a bit diagonally toward the ceiling.
  4. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, relax, and repeat. Do 20 to 30 reps at once, or break it up into 5 to 8 reps four to five times a day.

Rhomboid Strengthener

The rhomboids are the muscles that support the upper back and hold it in proper alignment. They are responsible for three distinct actions: pulling the shoulder blades toward each other; lifting the shoulders up, allowing you to shrug them; and pressing the shoulders down, away from the ears.

You can activate them by squeezing your shoulder blades toward each other—a move that will immediately and naturally pull your shoulders up and back, reversing the forward slump. Strengthening the rhomboid muscles so they're more resistant to the forward pull of gravity can help reverse kyphosis and the forward head posture it causes.

  1. Sit on a firm chair.
  2. Wrapping your arms around your ribs as if to hug yourself, try to touch your shoulder blades, keeping in mind you'll only be able to reach the outside border. "Walk" your fingers downward to try to find to bottom tips of each blade and then release the hug.
  3. Bring both hands behind your head, lifting your elbows to bring your forearms parallel to the floors. Holding this position, squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other to activate the rhomboid muscles. Hold for a count of 5 and slowly release.
  4. Repeat, this time imagining there's a quarter between your shoulder blades that you need to hold in place. This will help you increase the degree to which you squeeze the muscles. Hold for a count of 5 and slowly release.

Pectoral Stretch

The third exercise is a simple stretch of the muscles that span across the width of your chest—the pectoralis muscles, or pecs. When the shoulders slump forward, these muscles squeeze together and tighten up, so it's important to try to loosen them from that position.

A corner pec stretch is much like a push-up at the wall, except that the emphasis is placed on staying in the position that causes your chest muscles to lengthen. Here are the basic moves.

  1. Stand facing the corner of a wall.
  2. With your elbows bent 90 degrees and your upper arms parallel to the floor, place your palms and forearms against each adjacent wall.
  3. Inhale and then, as you exhale, pull your abdominal muscles toward your spine to stabilize your lower back. Without moving your feet, lean your torso toward the wall until you feel a gentle stretch across the entire front of your chest.
  4. Hold for between 5 to 30 seconds, then return to starting position.

A Word From Verywell

If you're prone to neck pain, you've injured your neck, shoulders, or back, or you have a condition such as arthritis, check with your doctor or a physical therapist before doing these (or any) exercises for the first time. These moves can be beneficial, but you'll need to know how to avoid exacerbating an existing problem.

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