Do you tend to lean forward when texting, eating or typing at a computer? We all do. And most of the time, it's not a problem — until it is.
Anterior head syndrome, or forward head posture, is when your neck tilts forward and out of alignment with the spine. Doing so here and there is just a normal part of body movements, like when looking down or reaching for an object. But when it becomes a long-term pattern (at work or home, for example), forward head posture can lead to big trouble — from general soreness in the neck to more serious problems like bone spurs and headaches.
If that sounds scary, here's some good news: Experts don't typically recommend that you see a doctor unless you have symptoms. That's why it's important to spot the signs of forward head posture as soon as you can so that you can break bad habits like slumping, and if needed, see a professional before the pain snowballs into bigger issues.
Symptoms of Anterior Head Syndrome
For starters, anterior head syndrome can cause uncomfortable pain and strain in the neck and back — mild at first, and more severe as time goes on. In advanced cases, it can lead to problems with sciatica (pain in the lower back and lower body), herniated disks and muscle spasms — among many other musculoskeletal problems.
A common telltale sign is a sore feeling in the muscles surrounding the head, neck, upper back and shoulders. It might be hard to pinpoint to a specific area, since it can spread out into general discomfort across affected regions.
Other symptoms may include:
- A feeling like your muscles are tensed up or become hard to move
- A burning or tingling sensation in one area that gets better with rest and worse with activity
- Tender spots that get particularly sensitive to touch, usually toward the back of the neck
- Jaw problems, such as popping, pain or trouble opening the mouth
Forward Head Posture Causes: 3 Habits to Kick
Often, forward head posture causes can be traced back to activities that abandon good posture. That's why it's important to nip these bad habits in the bud, sooner rather than later:
Habit #1: Not Exercising
You likely already know the plethora of benefits linked with physical activity — but staying fit also supports spinal health: Research has shown that exercise can help relieve the pain associated with forward head posture. While all kinds of activity are great, endurance activities like walking can help restore movement from stiff muscles.
Or, take it a step further with neck-focused exercises. To get started, the North American Spine Society suggests several stretches for reversing forward head posture or soothing the pain that comes from it.
Habit #2: Misadjusting Daily Tools
Ensure that your workstation computer screen is at (or just below) eye level, and either raise it or yourself to make that happen. (Hint: An ergonomic setup can help a lot with this!) When reading, do the same, whether it's a reading tablet or a book. Also, try adjusting the steering wheel up to a more comfortable place so that you don't have to hunch when driving.
But don't stop there: Consider other machines, devices, furniture or tools you use on a day-to-day basis, from office chairs to TV screens. Do any of them have adjustable levers to raise or lower things into a more natural, less hunch-inducing position?
Habit #3: Making Smartphone Blunders
Pain linked with hunching over tiny cell phones has become so prominent that the medical community even coined a term for it: "text neck." And for such a little device, it can pack a major blow your spine: Experts from the Cleveland Clinic estimate that when you tilt your head forward to see a smartphone, it increases the force on your neck from 10 pounds to 60.
The fix? Putting down your phone or taking breaks between prolonged smartphone use can help, but that's not always possible. If you must be glued to your device, raise it to eye level, and consider tweaking the font size and brightness so that you don't have to strain your neck to see it.
Of course, if you find yourself in pain despite breaking bad habits, don't try to fight through the discomfort or tough it out. Instead, schedule a visit with a chiropractor, physical therapist or other medical professional as soon as you can. They can assess your symptoms and help diagnose any underlying issues that could be to blame — and potentially offer solutions to treat them before they become an even bigger pain in the neck.