How To Fix Forward Head Posture

A guide to what causes a forward head posture and how you can fix it

In order to permanently and thoroughly fix forward head posture, you need to address the underlying problems of habitual tension.

 

Most people carry too much tension in their neck muscles. It’s actually the most common muscular habit. The habits of tension accumulate throughout your life and very gradually distort your posture. Little children and babies are able to sit effortlessly with absolutely straight backs, whereas adults rarely can.

The problem with holding tension in the neck is that your head is very heavy – approximately 5kg / 12lb. When your head is fixed in position with clenched muscles, the weight of it will actually compress your entire body. The forces created are measurable - it’s simple mechanical physics.

This diagram shows the head resting on the spine at the 'point of pivot'. Lessons in the Alexander Technique show you how to keep this point poised rather than fixed.

The solution to forward head posture is learning how to have a 'free neck'. This means identifying and preventing the tension so that your head can be supported with as little effort as possible. When the weight of your head is supported through balance and poise, not only will your posture be improved, but also the decrease in pressure will lead to many other physical improvements.

How to fix forward head posture

1. Identify your muscular habits

I’m trained to feel the human muscular system with my hands much in the same way as a skilled rider is trained to manage a horse via contact through the seat and the reins. Good training and a lot of practice means that when I place my hand on a person’s shoulder, or the back of the neck, I am able to detect how they are using their postural muscles throughout their entire system, let alone in the area I'm touching. I’m able to determine which muscles are over-contracting and which ones are slack – a bit like an osteopath or a physiotherapist. The difference is that I’m able to gauge how the brain is involved – what sort of messages are being communicated to the muscles via the nerves.

2. Learn how to prevent or alter them

The involvement of the conscious brain is crucial to changing muscular habits. The activity that takes place in the skeletal, or postural, muscles is actually under conscious control. It may seem unconscious – we move all the time without thinking about it – but it’s really just pushed to the back of the mind to make space for concentrating on thousands of other everyday things. With guidance it’s possible to be made aware of exactly how much contraction is taking place in these muscles. Re-engaging the brain like this is a simple process of re-training. With practice the brain forms new pathways and new habits are created.

 

3. Learn to project your head 'forwards and up'

'Muscle memory' is the term sometimes used to describe acquiring a physical skill. When a rugby player spends a few moments mentally projecting before kicking a goal it involves remembering exactly how it felt when he did it last time. With forward head posture, tension in the sub-occipital muscles pulls the occiput back and down towards the atlas vertebra. The opposite, and preferable, direction would be forwards and up. When you picture this in conjunction with being physically shown it and being told when you get it right, the brain registers the positive feeling and remembers it for next time. With practice the desired result can be achieved in a matter of seconds and without assistance.

Lessons in the Alexander Technique show you how to:

 

  • hold your head in a relative state of balance as opposed to a correct position

  • move your head with minimum strain and maximum poise, whatever you happen to be doing in your life - whether you’re playing sport or washing the dishes

  • choose comfort over tension

F.M. Alexander teaching correct head posture

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Why people have forward head posture

When you first learned to move and co-ordinate your muscles as a small child you probably had pretty good posture. You didn’t have very much else to worry about in life. You spent years just playing – having good posture was part of what came naturally. But throughout your life, without noticing it, you will have developed patterns of muscular tension that distort your posture.

 

You don’t necessarily start out in life with an awkward head position, rounded shoulders and so forth. But you end up with all sorts of bad habits that translate into bad posture. Nobody forces you – it just gradually creeps up over the years. You respond to everything that happens to you in a muscular way and very often your habitual response becomes a fixed part of you.

Three facts about posture

1. Your posture determines a lot of what you project about yourself.

SIT UP! - SHOULDERS BACK! - CHIN UP!

These are all phrases you might hear when others encourage you to project something positive about yourself.

2. Posture is on the surface but it actually affects how you feel inside.

Upbeat or dreary, comfortable or strained - how you hold yourself actually impacts on your emotions. 

3. Bad posture can lead to pain and even injury.

The muscular tension involved puts pressure on everything in your body – joints, organs, internal mechanisms. It can cause fatigue, constriction and aggravation.

The effects of forward head posture

If your head is permanently squashed down into your neck, the weight will cause compression. If your spine is compressed, your ribs won’t be able to move much. If your ribs can’t move efficiently, then your breathing will be compromised. If your breathing is inadequate, you will be tired. If you are tired, then everything you do will be a mental and physical strain.

 

Forward head posture means there will have to be compensation throughout your whole system.

 

If your head posture is poor, it will mean your neck muscles have to permanently work harder than they need to in order to support the weight of your head. The resulting tension could lead to headaches, neck pain or back pain.

Variations on forward head posture 

Most of the people in these images have tension in the back of the neck, causing the head, relative to the top of the neck, to be pulled back and down. The deep muscles that join the back of the head to the neck, the 'sub-occipitals', are contracted and the head is fixed.

 

It is possible to have good posture, like the image on the left, and still be tense - but in all the other images muscular tension is implicit.

Don’t be down - lighten up!

We are all familiar with idioms that relate to gravity. When you’re feeling positive, the descriptive words tend to suggest 'up'; when you’re feeling negative, the descriptive words tend to suggest 'down'. Your moods are described physically because your body posture reflects your emotions and vice versa.

 

  • Under the weather

  • Dragging his feet

  • Has the weight of the world on his shoulders

  • Walking tall

  • Jumping for joy

  • On top of the world

If you’re feeling depressed, your head posture is likely to be forward and down; your torso is likely to be slumped. Holding this posture is likely to make you feel worse and worse.

 

If you’re feeling happy, you are more likely to be upright. This makes it easier to breathe and feel more comfortable - looking the world in the eye. Holding this position is more likely to make you feel even more positive.

 

 

In my experience as an Alexander Technique teacher, helping people with practical body mechanics gives them the CHOICE of whether to be physically up or down. Very often, when I show someone how to be 'up' from a muscular point of view, his or her mood will become more positive as a result.

 

Personally, I used to be just as shy and self-conscious as the next person when it came to speaking or singing in public. Using the skills I learned from the Alexander Technique made me able to be physically comfortable in front of an audience, which in turn made me feel relaxed and give the impression that I had no nerves. With practice I soon got to the point where I genuinely had no nerves and enjoyed myself instead of feeling awful.

Alexander Technique for improving mood

Living with tension

Living with muscular tension is physically tiring and will make you feel bad inside. It will drain your energy. It will have a negative impact on your decisions and relationships and anything you try to do. It will cause many of your physical problems. It will make your illnesses, injuries and chronic conditions worse.

Communicating the wrong messages

You want other people to see the best in you. You want to be the one who wins; the one who gets the job; the one who is attractive. Having a forward head position and the attendant bad posture projects a negative message.

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Fixing forward head posture with exercise

You could try physical exercises to change your posture – athletes and dancers do have good posture. Keeping fit and supple is good for you.

 

However, being fit, agile or healthy will not properly fix forward head posture. On the surface you may well end up looking great but this will do nothing to correct the underlying, resilient muscular tensions that have caused your head to be fixed.

 

People who are fit or who look good can still end up with the aches and pains brought about by tension.

Fixing forward head posture with stretching

Stretching is great - it’s good for the muscles. Stretching is a very natural thing to do - most animals regularly have a good stretch. It’s very important not to overdo it though - some extreme yoga moves, even performed well, put muscles, tendons and joints through pressures that can lead to real problems. You need to feel comfortable and relaxed when you stretch.

 

However, stretching will not fix forward head posture. A few shoulder rolls and gentle neck twists might feel good but will do nothing to correct the underlying, resilient muscular tensions that have caused your posture to need to be fixed.

Fixing forward head posture with massage

Massage is good for you. Massage will increase the circulation to tense muscles; it will break down knotty areas; it will remove toxins and it should feel very relaxing. You can go to a specialist, or to some extent, you can do it yourself using your fingers, the heel of your hand or foot, or using something to roll against like a tennis ball. It’s a very natural and clinically proven way to deal with stress and tension. I can think of lots of animals that enjoy a good rub!

 

However, massage will not fix forward head posture. It may be good for you and feel great in the short term but again, it will do nothing to correct the underlying, resilient muscular tensions that have caused your posture to need to be fixed.

Fixing forward head posture with willpower

You probably make a special effort to improve your posture if you’re about to have your photo taken, or be interviewed for a job, or meet a date. Consciously or unconsciously, you want to look your best. You know that being upright and open as opposed to having a good slouch will look better.

 

You may well achieve better-looking posture by forcing yourself. With determination and willpower you can alter your habits. However, the result will do nothing to correct the underlying, resilient muscular tensions that have caused your posture to need to be fixed.

Fixing forward head posture with DIY Alexander Technique

With most skills you can teach yourself to some extent. You can get a book, or look at YouTube and practise. You can find out a lot about the Alexander Technique without having a lesson.

 

However, the result will do nothing to correct the underlying, resilient muscular tensions. You may well be able to 'relax' your neck muscles or 'stretch' them but the most you will alter about the underlying habitual 'use' is a new 'wrong' position.

It’s almost impossible to learn the Alexander Technique without guidance from a teacher.

 

The issue has to do with sensory feedback and balance – your neck muscles being crucial to both.

 

Your brain, in order to control your balance, processes information from all your senses, your joints and the receptors in your muscles. Your neck is a key organ of balance. There are a vast number of receptors in your neck literally telling your brain where the rest of your body is.

 

Doing something new with the dozens of muscles in your neck would feel too unusual and strange for your brain to register as normal. It could even make you feel queasy – so your brain won’t let it happen. You won’t even stumble upon it by accident.

 

A teacher’s job is to carefully re-train your brain, improving your sensory feedback so that the right thing feels natural.

My Story

Forward head posture was definitely something that used to describe my image. Along with shoulders that curved forward and a bit of a slouch. All the typical habits that you might expect from a person who has low confidence, poor self-esteem and shyness; habits that one might develop subconsciously as a child out of a need to hide or stay safe.

Lessons in the Alexander Technique improved my posture, thus solving my persistent back pain. They also made me feel comfortable and so contributed to an improved self-image.

More than 30 years of lessons have helped me with everything I have done, including: rock climbing, dancing, singing, swimming, childbirth, pain management, work…and much, much more.

 

I can’t imagine an investment in anything else that has paid such dividends.

Taster lesson 

Alexander Technique lessons are relaxing, fun, enlightening and very non-intrusive. The teacher will use verbal and manual guidance, while you remain fully dressed, to show you where you’re holding tension.

 

It will always be a revelation. The whole problem is that your muscular habits have evolved over a lifetime and you’re simply used to them being there. You feel normal. So when the tension stops it is a great relief and seems so obvious you wonder how you didn’t realize what you were doing to yourself before.

 

A lot of what I teach is practical common sense: mechanical - simple ergonomics.

 

My job is to show you how to feel better and function more efficiently.

In this image the teacher is gently using his hands to encourage the pupil to free her neck. 

 

Have a taster lesson with Jenny Skinner

I’ve been doing the Alexander Technique for over 30 years so I know a great deal about correcting forward head posture.

I am an expert in everything to do with body ergonomics.

 

I have had extensive, first class teacher training.

 

I have taught thousands of people over the last 20 years.

 

I love my work!

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Testimonials

'It only took a few lessons for Jenny to significantly alter my forward head posture. I continued with lessons for several months as I found it so useful' 

GT, Editor from Chichester

 

'The Alexander Technique is a very effective method of neuromuscular re-education' 

SC, Osteopath from London

 

'Jenny has wonderful hands and makes things very clear' 

AG, Vet from Dorchester

 

When I taught at Sherborne School the boys used to like me to measure their height on the door-frame before and after a lesson to see how much taller they could be. All of them would grow taller, even if it were just a tiny amount. One boy was in the habit of going around with a good teenage slouch – he would be 6’ 2’’ on a bad day and 6’ 5’’ after his lesson. He would quite literally 'lighten up.'

 

Many famous people have had lessons

Jack Stern, spinal neurosurgeon:

'97% of people with back pain could benefit by learning the Alexander Technique - it is only a very small minority of back pain sufferers that require medical intervention such as surgery.'

Professor Nicholas Tinbergen, Nobel Prize winner for medicine and physiology :

'We already notice, with growing amazement, very striking improvements in such diverse things as high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures, and in such a refined skill as playing a musical instrument.'

Sir Charles Sherrington, neurophysiologist:

'Mr Alexander has done a service to the subject [of the study of reflex and voluntary movement] by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psychophysical man. To take a step is an affair, not of this or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment, not least of the head and neck.'

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