Neck pain is only second to back pain as the primary musculoskeletal complaint that people have. There can be many causes for these pains and we definitely would not suggest that good posture is a solution to all these problems. However, posture in general and head position in specific are some of the most common causes and some of the most easily correctable causes for neck and back pain.
The mechanism of discomfort caused by posture is quite simple. When we have ‘natural’ or ‘proper’ posture, our muscles are in a state of balance. Most muscle groups operate as pairs: Antagonist and Protagonist, the Protagonist being the one contracting. As muscles can only work in contraction, in order to support a weight or position the Protagonist must contract. For example, if your head is tilted forward the muscles at the back of your neck must contract in order to support the weight of your head (approximately 14lb). As the neck muscles are connected along the spine, your other muscles along the spine must contract. This in turn pulls the rest of your spine out of neutral alignment. Each one of these muscle groups which remains contracted for a long period of time will result in pain all along the back and into the neck and head, often resulting in headaches.
One of the main difficulties with respect to correcting posture related discomfort is that the longer you have poor posture the harder it is to correct. As we allow our head to move forward from neutral, the contracted muscles eventually become longer and the opposing muscles become shorter. This process has to be reversed with stretching and strengthening exercises over some time in order to regain the balance that has been lost.
The simplest way to test your own natural position is to be supine (face up) on the floor and get points of contact with floor at the back of your head, upper back and butt. Try to relax in this position especially in the neck region and shoulders. If this position is difficult, for example, if you feel you need to support the head on a pillow or similar item, you know that the muscles in the front of your neck may have become shortened due to improper posture. Similarly, if it is difficult for you to have your shoulders and upper back flat on the floor, you know that the muscles in the front of your body may have shortened due to posture.
If you have one of the issues mentioned above you will need to use alternating contraction exercises to help you regain balance. If you don’t know what we mean, come by to the studio and we will help you learn.