Forward Head Posture Exercises

Woman rubbing neck at gym
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Many people fret about developing a hunchback either as they get older or because they work at a computer. Regardless of the cause, this type of posture problem is called kyphosis, and it can be seen from a side view of the body as a rounded upper back. 

But it doesn't stop there. Kyphosis is almost always accompanied by a related issue called forward head posture. Forward head posture develops in response to the kyphosis. Here's what happens:

When your shoulders round forward, and your upper back rounds over, your head will be brought down. Your gaze will be pulled downward, as well. But to be able to see what's in front of you, you'll likely feel the need to lift up your head. This action "kinks" the back of the neck, shortening the muscles that extend from the bottom of your skull to the bottom of your cervical spine. Although you can see what you need to, your head and neck are no longer in alignment with the rest of your spinal column.

Along with the possibility of being unsightly, this forward head posture and "kinking" may lead to neck strain, sprain and/or pain.

Overcoming forward head posture doesn't lend itself well to quick fixes. So if you're thinking all you need to do upgrade your computer workstation, think again.

A 2017 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy compared exercise to workstation modification for reducing office related neck, shoulders and back pain. The researchers found that exercise provided better for pain relief than did ergonomics. Although the study lasted six months, after four, exercise was the only treatment that delivered pain relief in any way.

The main takeaway was that office workers should do exercise, whether or not they also undergo ergonomic evaluations and modifications. 

Must-Do Exercises for Forward Head Posture and Kyphosis

Daily exercise may also help you reduce symptoms related to kyphosis and forward head posture. A 2011 systematic review found that while the components of the most effective office exercise program remain elusive, muscle strengthening and/or endurance training is likely a good bet, especially if reducing pain is your goal. If you need to reduce disability that's related to the pain, muscle endurance exercise is recommended over strengthening.

There are three exercises that may help you address kyphosis and forward head posture. It's best not to cherry pick through these. Instead, consider performing all of them each time you do an office exercise session.

  1. The first, and most important, is called 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. And it's the key to reversing a forward head posture.
  2. The second exercise helps strengthen the muscles that hold your upper back up, and in good alignment relative to the rest of your spine. These muscles, called the rhomboids, can become lax or overstretched if you're tall, you work at a computer all day or you drive a lot, and of course in cases of kyphosis.
    1. Strengthening your rhomboids may provide support for the good neck and head alignment.
  3. The third exercise is a simple stretch of your pectoralis muscles. Pecs get very tight in cases of kyphosis and forward head posture. Unless you release that tension, it will likely cement that kyphosis in place. 

What to Do About Existing Neck Problems

If you're prone to neck pain, you've injured your neck, shoulders or back or you have a condition such as arthritis, it's important to work with your doctor or physical therapist on exercise selection and form. Once you've been discharged from physical therapy, the exercises described here may be appropriate for you. If you are at all unsure about that, do check with your qualified, licensed health provider to confirm you're on the right track.

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Article Sources

  • Shariat, A., et. al. Effects of stretching exercise training and ergonomic modifications on musculoskeletal discomforts of office workers: a randomized controlled trial. Braz J Phys Ther. 2017

  • Sihawong, R., et. al., Exercise therapy for office workers with nonspecific neck pain: a systematic review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. Jan 2011.

  • Sources