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Posture Impacts Brain Function (Key Research & 2 Critical Exercises!)

Video Highlights

-- How the brain is impacted by forward head posture
-- Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor and Semispinalis Capitis
-- Basic stretching mobilizations

Hi, I’m Dr Eric Cobb with Z-Health Performance and today we’re talking about forward head posture and its impact on cognitive function. This is actually a really interesting topic because as I’ve been mentioning in previous blogs, a lot of people have associated forward head posture with neck pain and shoulder pain. That’s hard to prove in research but there’s a lot of other things that we’re learning about how the brain is impacted by forward head posture and that brings us to Z heath. If you are new to Z Health we’re a brain based education company we work with doctors, therapists, and coaches around the world so if you find this type of information interesting subscribe to the channel and check out all of our free resources. 

So here’s the deal, if you look at some of the current research particularly on the aging population there is a growing body of evidence that indicates that forward head posture, as well as the degree of forward head posture, has a direct correlation with cognitive decline. This may be changes in short-term memory, verbal skills, logic, reasoning skills, executive functions and I find this very very interesting because there’s also some other small studies that you can look at that show that people working at keyboards all day: they more severe the forward head posture the more likely they are to suffer from basically cognitive overwhelm or cognitive overload. So there is obviously some alterations occurring between what’s happening with blood flow to the brain, oxygenation, activation from mechanoreceptors throughout the body when we’re in this forward head posture. So I think it’s very very important for you to consider for yourself for, your clients, that while postural correction or partial restoration might not be an essential pain relief tool, it can impact on a lot of other things from balance, to movement efficiency, movement coordination and obviously as we’re starting to learn cognitive function. 

So we want to take this a step further. There was another study done fairly recently and it looked at the actual anatomical ramifications of mild and moderate forward head posture as well as severe forward head posture. And they did this in cadavers. So they basically took people, cadavers, and they looked at their relative forward head position and then they did dissections looking at what muscles were predominantly impacted. What muscles were shortened? What muscles were lengthened as a result of this chronic posture? And so you know you can check that study out but I’m going to go over a couple of different interventions that I find really useful for people that have mild or moderate forward head posture. 

Two of the muscles that are shown in the cadaver studies to be lengthened with prolonged exposure or prolonged positioning in (like I said mild to moderate category) one’s called the rectus capitis posterior minor and the other is called the semi-spinalis capitus. Again, you can look those up and check them out. What I want to show you are some basic stretching, mild mobilizations that you can do to impact on these muscles but because this is z health because we’re a brain based company I want you to do a little pre and post testing. 

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So first stand up close your eyes shake out any tension and from here I want you to bend your knees, tuck your pelvis a little bit, bring your ribs down lengthen your spine, tuck your chin, and notice how much tension you have. Alright? So basically we’re trying to get you into a one to two percent better posture than normal and I want you to see how much tension you have specifically in the upper cervical spine echoing down the back of your neck into your upper shoulder blades. Alright, so once you have a baseline we’re now going to do these mobilizations. These need to be done very gently. I will say that again very gently because it is possible for people to get in here, do a very heavy stretching motion and injure themselves. So do this to your capacity. Make sure you don’t do anything that’s going to put you out of commission. I recommend on a scale of one to ten keeping the stretching sensation between a one and a three. This is a coaxing process not a forcing process and this is a relatively delicate area we’re going to be working with. 

So the first stretch is for the upper part of the semi-spinalis capitus. What you’re going to do is you’re going to reach behind you and you’re going to find the big bump at the base of your neck that is typically C6 or C7 and I’m going to have you keep one hand there. Now what you’re going to do is you’re going to get into a comfortable stance. You’re then going to flex your neck. Alright, so you’re basically bringing your chin down toward your chest. From here you’re now going to do a lateral bend away but as you’re doing that lateral bend, you are trying to focus on making that happen from where you’re touching. So we’re not doing a sharp bend, we are doing an elongated lateral glide. Alright, so again we’re just going to flex the neck and do an elongated lateral glide and then add a little bit more neck flexion to it. You’re going to hold that for only two or three seconds and then you’re going to come back out of it and you’re going to break and you’re going to repeat that. I like to have people do this somewhere between three and maybe 10 times just holding for two to three seconds at the end. If it’s comfortable for you, you can also get into that position and just do some very very minor pulses; exploring some different ranges of motion but again be careful. You do that on both sides that’s semi-spinalis capitis. 

Then we want to go to the righteous capitis posterior minor. This is way up here. Based on the skull this is one of what’s called the suboccipital muscles. For this one, this is a very subtle movement and it is possible for this one to be very uncomfortable. Again go slowly use less tension, Coax, don’t force! Here’s the drill: you’re going to tuck your chin down, you’re going to retract it. Alright, so we’re gonna tuck and then retract and then if I’m working my left side I’m going to turn my head to the right. So I’m going to turn to the side a little bit here. Tuck your chin, retract, turn to the right and you’re going to feel a very unusual deep stretch right in the base of your skull in your upper cervical spine. For the other side, for my right side, I’m going to tuck my chin, retract and then I’ll be turning to the left. Most people who have forward head posture or neck problems of any kind will notice that one direction versus the other is exquisitely more difficult or potentially more tender. So if that is you, make sure that you’re using less tension on the more intense or painful side. Again we want to coax these because they’re delicate. 

Now once you’ve done your you know three to ten uh two to two seconds, three seconds stretches; I want you to come back to your baseline. Shake everything out, bend your knees, tuck your pelvis, bring your ribs down, stand up, tuck your chin a little bit. Try to get into that long spine posture and now notice do you feel like you are able to get into that neck position? Less forward head or stacked over the rest of the body with more comfort. If so, then I would consider adding these exercises into your daily routine because they are very powerful and I really like the fact that we can look at the research literature and go to those two muscles definitively are involved. They shorten over time, so a little bit of lengthening work can go a long way to getting you out of that forward head posture and then the long-term benefit of all that may be that it helps slow some of the cognitive challenges that we may face as we get older. Alright, so give this a shot I hope you find it useful.

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