There are many ways to describe the inevitable consequence of office work for those who don’t take action to stop it. Nerd neck, tech neck, hunchback, forward head posture, rounded shoulders, are just a few. It’s the most common postural deformity with up to 90% of the population experiencing symptoms and pain associated with forward head posture at some point in their life. It’s not hard to see it. Next time you’re walking in the street take a look around. It won’t take you long to spot several people suffering from this ailment. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Tech neck is easily reversible through some minor changes to your daily habits, ergonomically designed office furniture and some basic exercises that anyone can do. This article is going to help you get your posture back on track and explain the profound benefits that great posture can have to your everyday life.
What is ‘nerd neck’ or ‘forward head posture’ and how is it caused?
Forward head posture (FHP) is a sub-optimal body position that is caused by poor habitual neck posture. It’s defined by the hyperextension of the upper cervical vertebrae and it often coexists with Upper Crossed Syndrome. If we drop the jargon for a second, these terms are describing a neck that slants forward and shoulders that are rounded in front of the body. It makes people appear slouched when sitting and standing in more serious cases.
The most common causes of FHP are:
- Too much time looking at a poorly aligned computer screen
- Prolonged periods of looking at your mobile phone
- Extended periods of driving
- Sleeping with your head too elevated
- Carrying a heavy rucksack
- A sedentary lifestyle
Other causes of nerd neck:
- Historical neck injuries
- Weak neck muscles
- Weak or problematic breathing
- Sports that favour one side of your body
- Professions that require you to hunch over
What muscles are affected by forward head posture?
The muscles involved in tech neck and rounded shoulders are the deep upper cervical extensors and the shoulder protractors. Forward head posture results in the upper back muscles becoming tight and stretched out. While the front neck and chest muscles become weak and shortened. Over time this can cause all sorts of musculoskeletal and cardiovascular problems, often resulting in pain and discomfort for many.
Common side effects of nerd neck
There are several related side effects of forward head posture which can become uncomfortable at best and debilitating at worst. The three most common side effects are neck pain, back pain and respiratory problems.
Neck Pain - is the most common side effect of forward head posture. This is because your body has to adapt and find new ways to keep your head in alignment for straight-ahead vision, and your neck does most of the work to achieve this. When you have good posture, the deep cervical flexors which help to stabilize your neck are on cruise control as the weight of your head is naturally balanced on top of the cervical spine. The deep cervical flexors are simply there to bring your neck back into alignment after you’ve changed position to look at something or someone. However, as your head and neck tilt forward from bad posture habits, the deep cervical flexors are elongated and become weakened over time. The more your head and neck tilt forward, the weaker the deep cervical flexors become, and the harder it is to keep your head in a position for straight-ahead vision. This can result in aches, soreness and stiffness in your neck and without action, it will keep getting worse.
Back Pain - is stage two of the side effects associated with forward head posture. It’s more common in long term sufferers and is a result of a forward tilt in the head & neck and rounded shoulders. There is hyperflexion in lower cervical spine because the vertebrae are tilting too far forward. There is an opposite effect to the upper cervical spine as it goes into hyperextension to keep the head in a position to look straight ahead. The opposing forces elongate the spine from the base of the skull to the base of the neck. This means that some muscles in the upper back and neck are working on overtime to keep your head in a position where it can look ahead. This can lead to painful strains and spasms in the upper back. The longer the bad posture goes unaddressed, the more likely and more frequent the strains and spasms become.
Respiratory Problems - is arguably one of the more serious side effects of forward head posture and like the other side effects, it gets worse over time. A 2019 study found that the expansion of the upper thorax and contraction of the lower thorax caused by FHP decrease respiratory function and efficiency. Rounded shoulders and forward head posture cause the chest muscles and other surrounding muscles to shorten. This then limits the range of motion of the rib cage and causes people to take shorter, faster and shallower breathes. This type of breathing is associated with increased fatigue, higher cortisol levels and increased blood pressure. A 2014 study found that people with severe neck pain had significantly reduced respiratory abilities and highlights the correlation between bad posture and breathing issues. It’s important to improve your breathing through posture to experience increased energy levels, lower stress (cortisol), and reduce blood pressure. This will result in you becoming more energetic, healthy and productive!
Best ways to fix forward head posture
Sorry if that sounded a bit scary, but it’s important to understand the consequences of bad posture and prolonged periods of sitting down, either at the office or in the car. The good news is that FHP can be fixed with a few simple changes to your everyday life. Don’t worry, we’re not just going to try and sell you a wonder product that we claim will fix everything straight away, because we know that’s not how this problem is fixed! Upgrading your office with some ergonomic products is just part of the solution. However, more than that needs to be done to get the fastest and best results. Here’s what you can do to start correcting your forward head posture so that you can increase your productivity and overall health & wellbeing.
1. Upgrade to an ergonomically designed home office
Getting the right support for your back and setting up your office equipment to allow your head to sit in natural alignment is a crucial step in the process of fixing FHP. After all, it’s where we all spend most of our time Monday to Friday! Some of you will want to go all out and get every product possible to help correct your posture, but even just a small upgrade like a laptop stand can have a profound effect on your posture and long term health. Here’s a list of products you need to design the ultimate ergonomic office set up:
2. Sleep right
Sleeping is another aspect of your life that can positively or negatively affect your posture, and it’s another thing we spend about 8 hours of each day doing. So it’s important to make sure it’s helping you out. FHP can be caused by too much elevation of the neck when sleeping which is the result of sleeping with multiple or large pillows. Try sleeping with only one firm pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck.
3. Strengthen through simple daily exercises
10 minutes of simple exercise per day can quickly help to correct your posture. Just stay committed and consistent and you will start seeing results. Here’s a video of a powerful routine that you can do daily, in between work.
4. Avoid carrying a heavy backpack
This one is particularly important for anyone who commutes to work on public transport and uses a backpack to carry their belongings. If your backpack is too heavy, not a good fit, or you use a bag with one strap, it can cause and exacerbate the symptoms of FHP. Make a conscious effort to shed any unnecessary weight and try to put heavier items in the centre of your backpack to spread the load evenly across the middle of your back. Making sure your backpack is the right size will also help to carry the load in the correct places and lessen the load on your upper back and shoulders.
5. Improve driving posture support
If you’re someone that drives a lot, you are going to want to make sure you increase the support your body gets while driving to improve your posture. You might want to purchase a pillow to add lumbar support and align your seat in a way that forces good posture. You want to feel like you have length in your spine and neck, while also making sure that your head is in a natural forward-facing position for the duration of your drive. It’s another place you can optimise your posture and reduce the amount of time sitting in bad posture.
6. Move more
While this is the last point, it’s certainly not the least important point. The biggest cause of FHP is a sedentary lifestyle, so moving more, however you want to do this, is crucial to reversing some of the damaged caused by sitting down for prolonged periods. If you don’t do much right now, try to add at least 30 mins of exercise into your daily routine. It could be anything from a brisk walk, to jogging, or resistance training, and even yoga. On top of that, taking the time to sit down and perform breathing exercises with good posture will help to train your body to sit right and strengthen the breathing muscles that have been weakened from FHP.
We hope this article has helped you to identify and understand exactly what forward head posture is and the dangers of leaving it unaddressed. We know from personal experience that making small changes to your daily routine and following the tips outlined to fix FHP will set you on track to fix your posture. It won’t take long for you to start feeling the benefits of increased energy and productivity that come with it.