The 42-Pound Head
by Erik Dalton, Ph.D.
Originally published in Massage Today magazine May 2010
It’s not unheard of to have clients walk into your office sporting a 12-pound head that has migrated three inches forward of their shoulders. You are aware prior to palpation that their cervical extensors (semispinalis, splenii, longissimus and upper traps) are in a losing battle, attempting to isometrically restrain 42 pounds against the unrelenting force of gravity.
Rene Cailliet M.D., former director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Southern California wrote:
- Head in forward posture can add up to thirty pounds of atypical leverage on the cervical spine. This can tug the entire spine out of alignment.
- Forward head posture (FHP) may result in the loss of 30% of vital lung capacity. These breath-related effects are mostly due to the loss of the cervical lordosis which blocks the action of the hyoid muscles, especially the inferior hyoid responsible for helping lift the first rib during inhalation.
- Proper rib lifting action by the hyoids and anterior scalenes is essential for complete aeration of the lungs.
- The entire gastrointestinal system (particularly the large intestine) may become agitated from FHP which leads to sluggish bowel peristaltic function and evacuation.
- Cailliet also states: “Most attempts to correct posture are directed toward the spine, shoulders and pelvis. Each is important, but head position takes precedence over all others. The body follows the head – Therefore, the entire body is best aligned by first restoring proper functional alignment to the head”.
The effects of poor posture go far beyond just looking awkward.
In fact, the 2004 January issue of the American Journal of Pain Management reported on the relationship of poor posture and chronic pain conditions including low back pain, neck related headaches, and stress-related illnesses. “The extra pressure imposed on the neck from poor posture flattens the normal cervical curve resulting in abnormal strain on muscles, ligaments, fascia and bones.”
Research presented at the 31st Annual International Conference of the IEEE EMBS Minneapolis, Minnesota, (2009) stated; “Over time poor posture results in pain, muscle aches, tension and headache, and can lead to exstensive complications such as osteoarthritis. Forward head carriage may promote accelerated aging of intervertebral joints resulting in degenerative joint disease.”
It appears posture affects and modulates all bodily functions from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are among the many conditions influenced by faulty posture.
“90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine.” – Dr. Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize Recipient for Brain Research
Additionally, Dr. Roger Sperry demonstrated that 90% of the energy output of the brain is used in relating the physical body to gravity. Only 10% has to do with thinking, metabolism, and healing.
Consequently, a FHP will cause the brain to rob energy from thinking, metabolism, and immune function to deal with abnormal gravity/posture relationships and processing. The March 2000 Mayo Clinic Health Letter expounded on Sperry’s findings by reporting that prolonged FHP also leads to “myospasm, disc herniations, arthritis and pinched nerves.” Degenerative neck pain goes hand-in-hand with balance problems, especially in the elderly. Sensitive cervical spine mechanoreceptors govern the ability to balance and must be acutely coordinated with the balance system of the inner ear vestibular to stabilize equilibrium in both static posture and gait…
Erik Dalton, Ph.D., Certified Advanced Rolfer, founded the Freedom From Pain Institute and created Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques to share his passion for massage, Rolfing, and manipulative osteopathy. Click here for info on Massage Therapy Home Study.