As physical beings living in a physical reality, we are subject to all types of forces including gravity.
Our skulls, that carry our brain, weighs approximately 12 pounds for the average adult. The skull rests on top of the first bone of your neck, C1 (aka Atlas). Atlas is stacked on top of C2(Axis), Axis on top of C3, and so on until you hit C7 and that goes on top of T1(the area where the cervical spine(neck) transitions to the thoracic spine (upper back)).
You can imagine a set of 7 perfectly stacked Blocks with a Bowling ball resting on top. If the center of gravity of the bowling ball is in line with the center of gravity of the blocks below, you wouldn’t have to worry about the bowling ball falling over or the blocks collapsing. In other words there is structural integrity of the object in question.
What if we were to start from the very top and start shifting the bowling ball forward a little? Not so stable anymore. How about we push the first block forward a bit too? and do the same with each of the blocks underneath? Goodbye random structure with a bowling ball on top. The whole structure would collapse. In other words, the structural integrity was compromised and due to the laws of gravity and physics, the structure has been toppled over.
(the blocks are supposed to be scattered)
The same thing happens with our head and neck. When we are sitting at our desks using our computers and our heads are jutted forward, what do you think is happening? Look at the picture below.
Starting with a 12 lb head resting on top of the neck, we shift the head forward approximately 2 inches, the upper neck goes with it and the head now weighs 32 lb.(due to mechanics and gravity) The head is now in front of the plumb line, the structural integrity of the head and neck has been compromised the rest of the spine has to compensate.
1. Hold your cellphone close to your chest like you would when scrolling through Facebook.
2. Now, hold your cellphone directly in front of your chest with your arm completely extended forward like your about to take a selfie.
3. Hold this position for 1 whole hour.
In this analogy, the cellphone is your head, the arm is your neck.
Sounds ridiculous but this is what’s happening with your head and neck when you’re sitting for long periods of time using your computer with your head translated forward. You are giving the muscles in the back of your neck quite the work out. And, take a look at the compensations happening to the rest of the spine. Could a structural shift in the head and neck area cause low back pain? (Will be discussed in a future article)
The picture on the left is what we are talking about here. A forward translation, or shift of the head and neck. You can see that it also affects the shape and structural integrity of upper, mid, and lower back.
The second image shows another position that you may commonly see. This position has a forward translation vector of the head and neck with an additional downward spiraling force vector, flexion. (will be discussed in future articles).
The center of gravity of your head should be in line with the center of gravity of the rib cage with a resultant calm resting tone of the neck muscles(like the bowling ball resting peacefully on top of the blocks). Now that your head and neck are shifted forward, your muscles have to work extra hard to pull your head back into neutral position.
Your muscles are working unnecessarily hard and this has consequences. Below is a picture of some of the muscles that will begin to work extra hard.
This is a picture of the back of the head along with the upper neck, mid neck and the occipital muscles (aka suboccipital muscles). With your head and neck shifted forward by just 2 inches, these tiny muscles are some of the notable muscles that have to pull your now 32 lb. head back to neutral position.
What do you think happens when these muscles are chronically tight? Eventually, they will fatigue and tire out just like just like any muscle in your body. Next, the ligaments holding your neck bones together(keeping structural integrity) will be burdened to bear the 32 lb. load and will have it’s own consequences (will be discussed in future articles).
The pictures above shows the nerves that are affected when this cascade of mechanical events happen. The bony structures move out of place, the joint mechanoreceptors sent a signal to the brain. The brain signals these muscles to tighten up, attempting to pull the joints of the neck to a happy position again. The nerves going through the muscles get compressed and irritated and radiate pain upwards, to the front and to the sides of the head. You get what is commonly referred to as tension headaches.
What happens when you are chronically in this position. Lets revisit the diagram below. If nothing is done, it is likely that your head and neck will continue to shift forward. You may very likely end up with a skeletal structure like the specimen with the 42 lb load on the neck muscles and spine.
Below are a few things that you can do on your own to help yourself.
- Understand your structure and biomechanics in order to avoid positions that will further exacerbate your secondary conditions.
- Adjust your computer screen so that the top line you are reading is level with your eyes.
- Keep your elbows bent at around a 90 degree angle and keep them close to your body. Have the keyboard close to your torso so you do not have to be chronically reaching to use your keyboard or mouse(mechanics of the shoulder will be discussed in future articles)
- Sit with your butt close to the back of the chair. Thighs should be parallel to the floor which feet flat on the ground.
- Place a lumbar support with an elliptical shape anywhere from T10 to L5. This will help maintain your normal lumbar lordosis(curve) and at the same time it can also help prevent your thorax from slouching over too much.
The following is found on WebMD:
“For prevention, you can:
- Take medications
- Avoid the causes or triggers
- Manage your stress or learn relaxation techniques
- Practice biofeedback
- Try home remedies, like a hot bath, ice packs, or better posture
Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers are often the first treatments doctors recommend for tension headaches. People with the chronic kind can use some of these drugs to prevent headaches.
If OTC pain relievers don’t help, your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength med or a muscle relaxant.
Some drugs can keep you from getting a tension headache, like antidepressants, blood pressure meds, and anti-seizure drugs. You take them every day even if you aren’t in pain, so that you end up using less medication over time.” – http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/tension-headaches#2
It really depends on the type of person that you are. Now that the biomechanics have been laid out it is up to you to either make a change or completely ignore the knowledge and keep doing the same things that have already been done. It’s up to you whether you tell your friend who is sitting or standing next to you that they are exhibiting anterior head syndrome. I really hope that next time you have a headache, you can think twice before you decide what you want to do for it. Anterior head syndrome may very well be the cause of many of your secondary conditions.
At Structural Chiropractic in Glen Cove, NY, we are focused on detecting structural shifts of the spine and directing them back towards what is considered normal range. The above was a simplified example of the global and segmental shifts that your spine can experience and the secondary conditions that can manifest from the shift. If you think you have an issue that is stemming from your spine (your foundation), please contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation where we can simply talk about your health concerns. We will get to know each other and you will learn what it is that we do and how we are different. You can then elect to go directly into our Complete Structural Chiropractic Examination or you may schedule for another time.
P.S. You will not find a quick crack or a free massage at Structural Chiropractic. We pride ourselves on researching and using quality solutions for our patients. To learn more about your structure and our approach to health and well being, call 516-888-6139.
Dr. Nelson Lee