One of the most common areas of tension on the body is the upper trapezius and neck. Many people carry stress here unknowingly, others are extremely aware. Upper trapezius and neck discomfort is something reported by almost all of my clients on their intake form. Our lives of sitting and technology make it extremely easy for people to fall into FORWARD HEAD POSTURE. Lots of structures are involved in this postural deviation:
- Upper Trapezius
- Levator Scapula
- Pectoralis Major and Minor
- Serratus Anterior
- Lower and Middle Trapezius
FORWARD HEAD POSTURE has a myriad of negative effects on human function and performance.
The average human head weighs between 8-11 pounds, and represents roughly 5% of total body mass. For every inch the head moves forward, it’s weight feels doubled. Imagine standing on a diving board. At the start of the board, directly over the springs, there is very little stress and tension on the springs. As you move forward, more and more stress and tension is placed on the back springs as they begin to lengthen and and weaken, this represents your serratus anterior as well as middle and lower trapezius. The front of the of the springs become shortened and over active, this represents your upper trapezius, levator scapula, pectoralis minor and major and rhomboids.
EFFECTS ON BREATHING CAPACITY
There are two keys reasons for compromised breathing from forward head posture. When the head shifts forward, you begin to facilitate breath from your scalenes. This can cause dysfunction in the diaphragm and result in a lack of oxygen in the body. The second reason for breathing inefficiency is due to the collapsing chest wall. Air capacity is reduced as a result of a hollowing and compressing chest wall. The ribcage presses down on the lungs and prevents optimal diaphragm function. Try this for yourself by reaching your head as far forward as possible, then take a deep breath. Return your head to it’s normal resting position, take a deep breath, and notice the difference. To see more on breathing and programming breathing correctives, click here.
Lastly, let’s discuss the effects on immunity as a result of forward head posture. Tension in the spinal cord, causes a disruption between messages sent from it, through the sympathetic nervous system. Since our sympathetic nervous systems controls autonomic functions such as heart rate, breathing and digestion, these things can all be impacted by head position.
For the therapist: Make sure your client is down the table far enough for you to fit your elbows and forearms for support. Gently palpate from the upper trapezius to the base of the occiput. Once you have identified this landmark, drop slightly inferior. As you allow your fingers to move up into that soft tissue, you should be able to palpate directly on the spinous processes of C2 using your 3rd and 4th digit. Tissue density may restrict you from hitting directly on the SPs of C2, however with time and softening, they should become palpable. Maintain a gentle and consistent pressure with fingers perpendicular to the table. Stay here for as long as necessary to allow the head to relax back into the palms. Finish with some gentle headward tractioning.