Hi I’m Dr Eric Cobb of Z-Health Performance and today we’re going to talk about forward head posture and its impact on breathing. If you are new to Z-Health, we are a brain-based education company. We specialize in working with world-class doctors, therapists, and coaches; so if you find this information interesting make sure to subscribe to the channel and check out all of our free resources.
Alright, let’s talk about forward head posture. This is a very popular topic of conversation around the world, has been for probably over 100 years and the question has always been, “what true impact does forward head posture have on human beings?” Whenever I was in school, obviously I went through kind of a classical biomechanical education and the concept was that you know a forward head posture would then create additional physical stresses on the neck; you’d wind up with degenerative disc disease, arthritic changes, and pain. Well the fact is that there’s very little research evidence that posture in general, but particularly forward head posture and pain are directly related. However, what we have seen over the years after working with thousands of people people particularly people who are very compromised all the way up through world champion Olympic gold medalist, etc… is that there does seem to be a correlation between posture and performance. So now as you go deeper into the research literature what we’re seeing is that forward head posture that it’s problematic has some fairly specific impacts on balance. So we see issues with static balance, sometimes with dynamic balance. There is a correlation with forward head posture and problems with the inner ear. Now we are seeing more and more evidence that forward had posture, while maybe not directly related to pain, may be something worth addressing if you want to perform at a higher level. You want to feel and move better. Now one of the things that’s also very clearly shown up in the research literature is that forward head posture does impact breathing. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
So the way that we’re going to do this is experientially. What I want you to do is, I want you to stand get comfortable. Shake out any tension. Close your eyes for a second. Stand like you normally would. Now from here, what I want you to do is put your hands on your ribs. You’re going to breathe in through the nose and I want you to take in as deep a breath as possible. Alright, so take a deep breath in and what you’re trying to feel is how much expansion do you get in your lower ribs? Not only how much is it expanding but in what directions as you take this deep breath in. You’re trying to feel: do the ribs move forward, do they move out, do they move down, do they move back? We’re trying to see if you are capable of creating a three-dimensional expansion so if you had a belt around your lower ribs and you took a deep breath in, can you make all of them expand? Now once you’ve done that, we’re going to intentionally do forward head posture. Maybe you already have it, but we’re going to exaggerate it because I want you to feel the difference. So after you’ve done five or six breaths in, I want you to now go into a forward head posture so be a brontosaurus, right? Stick your head way far forward and what then what I want you to do is again, breathing in through the nose, take in that deep breath. And what you’re trying to feel is is there a difference in the amount of expansion available? What most the research literature will show is that whenever we have a forward head posture and we’re trying to take a deep breath in, right, so if I’m here and I’m trying to take a deep breath in that will usually decrease the efficiency of our diaphragm. And that is palpable in most cases with your hands. Not only will you feel it with your hands but you’ll also typically feel it with tension. Typically you’ll feel excess tension in your lower back, maybe your abdomen will feel strange.
So now what I want you to do is I want you to correct your forward head posture but I want you to over correct it. So now what you’re going to do is: you’re going to bend your knees, tuck your pelvis a little bit, stand back up, and then I want you to pull your head back. Basically as far as you can without pain but you’re going to hold it back there in that relatively constricted position and then try to breathe in again. And you’re trying to feel again, does that restrict my breathing? Because in most cases what we will see people doing in a, you know corrective exercise environment, is they’ll get up against the wall, and they’ll tuck their pelvis, and they’ll get real tall and they’ll pull their head back, and then they try to move around like that but most people will find that excessive correction adds excessive tension which is also going to restrict your breathing. So in most cases what we need to do, particularly when we think about long-term progression, is we need to find the happy medium. The way that I like to have people do that is we do the anterior or forward head posture and then the really strongly retracted posture get that comparison then you’re going to come back to neutral. You’re going to bend your knees, you’re going to tuck your pelvis a little bit. If you can think about bringing your ribs down a little. Now from here, all that I want you to do is lower your chin about half an inch, maybe a centimeter and then I want you to retract it about the same amount. It’s a very subtle movement. Tuck and retract. Now as you’re holding that what I want you to now try to do is take a deep breath in. Most of the time when people do this and they find that more relaxed but appropriate neck position, they’ll feel almost as if they are able to breathe in twice as much. You typically will feel more expansion in the rib cage, anteriorly, not to the front, but also to the sides and you will also often feel expansion in the back. So it’s really really useful for most people when they’re going through this beginning stages of developing, maybe more awareness of what their neck posture is and how it’s impacting on them to do this exercise regularly.
When I am doing postural work with people for whatever specific reason and we’re working on the neck, I will ask them to do this exercise, this compare and contrast exercise, five times a day. Do it when you get up, do it mid-morning, around lunch, mid-afternoon, and around dinner. You can even throw in one before you go to bed but really this is going to impact us most when we’re upright, we’re standing and we’re sitting. So the other possibility here is to do some practice of this while seated. Again, you’re looking for is that subtle but appropriate position of the head and neck that allows your diaphragm to do its job and to fill up those lungs.
Hope you enjoy this particular approach. Let us know in the comments and we will see you again soon!