It may surprise you to know that a simple posture error can actually worsen or even cause osteoporosis. But amazingly, it does – and in a big way.
That’s why today we’re going to talk about a common posture problem known as Forward Head Posture, or FHP. It’s not only unsightly; it damages your bones and your overall health.
The good news is that you can easily prevent and correct FHP. So I’m excited to show you simple exercises that counteract FHP and the damage it causes.
It Starts With Your Head
Today’s modern culture has seen an increase in the incidence of Forward Head Posture. As we text on our smartphones, tap on our laptops, or type on our desktop computers, we’re unconsciously leaning our heads forward.
The same posture problem can occur when you lie on the couch or sit in front of the television. Even driving a car can cause FHP.
As the head leans more and more forward, the resulting pain and tension cause your body to compensate with even worse posture and misalignment. Over time, this position can become permanent, and the head stays thrust forward even when you’re engaging in other activities.
What may not seem like a big deal is actually a significant problem as far as your health is concerned – particularly your bone health.
You see, your spine follows your head, and where your spine goes, your whole body follows. Amazingly, FHP raises your risk for fractures and may lead to low bone density. It can also result in a host of health problems, including neck and shoulder pain, headaches, impaired nerve function and decreased lung capacity.
Gravity: Your Osteoporosis Friend…And Enemy
Savers know that when you exercise, the force of gravity on bone increases bone density. But what you may not realize is that the action of gravity on a forward-thrust head is, frankly, torture for your musculoskeletal system.
Here’s why: the average human head weighs between 8 and 10 pounds. For every inch that your head is tilted forward, it adds another 10 pounds to the weight your neck is holding up. So if your head is pushed forward just 3 inches, that’s 30 extra pounds!
A good way to look at it is to imagine a bowling ball balanced on top of a pole. If the pole is straight up, gravity helps the ball stay in balance with little effort. But if you tilt the pole forward, the bowling ball will fall off unless you apply some sort of force to hold it there. At that point, you’re working against, rather than with, gravity.
Your neck, head, and shoulder muscles are constantly pulling up on your head if you have FHP. The excessive muscle strain produces lactic acid, which results in burning pain and cramping.
This Kind Of Muscle Pull Is Not Good For Your Bones
The resulting misalignment spreads from your head to your spine, and then to your pelvis and eventually throughout your body. This means impact and friction are occurring in all the wrong places when you move, creating pain and inflammation instead of increasing bone density.
Skeletal misalignment can actually decrease bone density. Your bones are made to respond to motion and gravity by increasing their strength, but when that motion means muscles act on the wrong spots, the areas that need it the most do not receive the beneficial impact of motion. And your bones suffer.
Forward Head Posture Increases Fracture Risk
I mentioned earlier that fracture risk increases with FHP. A University of California study found that this type of poor posture – called hyperkyphosis in the study – had an increased risk of fracture in study subjects with FHP regardless of past fracture history and bone mineral density.1
One aspect of this could be that FHP throws you off balance, making you more prone to falls and subsequent fractures.
FHP And Dowager’s Hump (Kyphosis)
While researchers referred to FHP as “hyperkyphosis,” FHP is not the same thing as kyphosis, or Dowager’s Hump. FHP can certainly exacerbate this condition, however, and poor posture plays a role in both. In fact, many of the health problems associated with FHP are similar to those caused by kyphosis, including…
Reduced Lung Capacity
When your head sags forward, your chest becomes compressed and your lungs can no longer fill up with air. Try it – lean your head forward and down and try to draw a deep breath. It’s impossible!
This is important, because deep breathing alkalizes the body. If you can’t get enough air, your body is not sufficiently oxygenated and a toxic, acidic environment results.
Alkalinity is so vital to preventing and reversing osteoporosis that tone of the main goals of the Osteoporosis Reversal Program is to help you achieve an alkaline pH. Because in an acidic environment, your bones just can’t retain the necessary calcium and therefore, become weak and prone to fracture.
Other Health Problems Caused By FHP
As you’ll read below, your whole body suffers when your posture is poor. Other health problems associated with FHP include:
- Tension headaches
- Increased blood pressure
- Herniated discs
- Vision problems (eye strain results from having to keep looking straight ahead when the head is pushed down and forward)
- Pinched nerves
- Poor balance
- Compromised body systems that rely on the proper functioning of the sympathetic nervous system, such as the endocrine, immune, and digestive systems
While it’s not a health problem per se, another consideration is that FHP gives you a stooped, aged appearance that isn’t good for your self-image.
Additionally, FHP causes pressure on the front of the cervical vertebrae, putting pressure on the front of the discs that cushion the bone. This can cause the discs to bulge and push against the spinal cord.
How To Correct FHP
As I mentioned earlier, this is a fixable problem. These three exercises show you how to correct Forward Head Posture. It’s a good idea to do them several times a day. As you make these exercises a part of your daily exercise routine, they will teach your body to have better posture throughout the day.
- Sit up straight but not stiffly. Use a mirror if possible to see if you are aligned properly.
- Use your neck muscles to pull your chin inward until your ears are over your shoulders. It may sound funny, but imagine someone is pushing on your nose.
- Keep your eyes and head level. Your head should glide back, not up or down.
- Hold for 5 seconds and return to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 times.
Chin Tuck While Lying Down
This variation helps shape your neck’s natural curvature and decompresses your cervical joints.
- Lie flat on your back on the floor or an exercise mat.
- Slowly lower your chin toward your chest as if nodding your head. Keep the back of your head on the floor.
- Hold this for 5 seconds.
- Return to the beginning position and repeat 10 times.
Shoulder Drop And Squeeze
Many people find that their shoulders creep up around their ears during the day due to tension, which contributes to FHP. This exercise helps release the shoulders and tone the muscles to help hold your head in the right position.
- Sitting up straight, drop your shoulders and let your arms hang down.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, making sure you are not pulling them upward.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and release.
- Repeat this 10 times.
Good posture is essential for preventing osteoporosis, and one of the easiest ways to correct it is to be aware of what your head and neck are doing. I hope these exercises are a helpful addition to your fitness routine!
Till next time,
1 Huang, MH, et al. “Hyperkyphotic Posture and Risk of Future Osteoporotic Fractures: The Rancho Bernardo Study.” Journal of Bone Mineral Research. March 2006. 21(3): 419-423. Web. https://www.chiro.org/LINKS/ABSTRACTS/Hyperkyphotic_Posture_and_Risk.shtml
Comments on this article are closed.
UMMMMM.. yes it will… increased rate or depth of respiration will decrease CO2, which is acidic. this is a basic way to alter acidosis into alkalosis. a perfect reason why in the case of metabolic acidosis and possible brain herniation that providers will hyperoxygenate the patient to cause cerebral vasoconstriction (alkalosis) to prevent herniation… I feel like before you reply with uneducated guesses, you should probably have some backing
Will swimming breast stroke with your head out of the water cause FHP or will it actually improve the problem? I would be very grateful for your advice please!
When ever i bends forward i feel somthing is slipping behind my neck and evry time h touch it its like my viens or bones somthing is slipping der ? Wot is dis? I have litlle posture problem n der is pain in mah shoulder n in neck .. Plss let me knw wot is dis?
Jesus Christ learn proper English please….
(Jesus Christ) what an ignorant and unnecessary bully-boy comment……
John, you made me laugh to tears!!
Vivian, as a chiropractor, I suggest that patients also externally rotate their arms, forearms, and hands as they pull their scapula together. Pulling in the rib cage and ramping up the neck is a good addition to this exercise.
I have had FHP since I was a teenager. When it was discovered at 16 that I was very shortsighted, the optician said that is what was causing my FHP. Because you can’t see well you tend to poke you head forward in order to see better. Because it occurred when my bones were growing it seems to have stayed with me. I have always had a problem where I cannot lay flat on a floor as it causes pain in the middle of my back between my shoulder blades, I guess this could be because of the FHP. Are you saying if I do this exercise now, that it will correct my FHP? Even though my bones grew that way?
Hi, I am 62 and have had one continuous headache since I was 18. It is always there and never goes away. Has ruined my life. I noticed while walking past a storefront window one day (at 18) that my head was jutting forward like a chicken neck. I have hated it and now think it may be my headache culprit. I will do these exercises in hopes that it is not too late for me. My spine is -3.9. I pray I can help with these exercises. Thanks Vivian!!!
I have found that one of the worst daily activities you can do that causes your head to tilt forward is washing dishes at the kitchen sink.
There is no way you can stand up straight to do it. The sink is always too far forward of your feet.
My back starts aching within a few minutes when I wash dishes – I just use the dishwasher now, even though I hate using the extra electricity this requires.
Zeke, this is so true. That is why I do my dishes in stages. Never all at one time. Wish I had a dishwasher!
Could you please post a tiny video with this article to show the problem and the exercise? There are a few parts that I do not clearly understand.
Vivian, thanks so much for the info on “forward head.” I am having a difficult time with this problem and I believe your exercises are just what I need.
Glad to hear it, Fran! 🙂
Will try your sugestions.I always have upper backpain.
Thanks for all your helpful sugestions.
Thank you so much for your explanation. I have already started your exercises. I have a natural tendency to lean toward my right shoulder. Do you think seeing a chiropractor once in a while and/or getting massages are a good idea? I rely on your advice so much, I really would like your opinion. Thanks again for everything. You truly are a life saver – Nicole
Thank you so much for this exercise. I apparently have had this FHP for a few years, and my husband is constantly encouraging me to change it. I am very thankful that I now have an exercise that should help. I am conscious of this problem, and FHP has started to make a significant negative impact on my balance.
Hi Vivian, thanks again for all your information. I swim quite a lot, and as I do the breast stroke my head is then tilted slightly back the other way. Trying to keep most of my face out of the water. I often wonder if this is doing my bones any good. I just love swimming, its such a great exercise.
Thank you so much for the sharing. Without being aware of the tendency to having FHP and its consequences, it seems this is one of the problems of our generation, of both young and elderly. This is very informative. I’m sure this will be of help to the readers. God bless your endeavors!
some time ago you stated that eating prunes, helps grow bones. How many
prunes does one need to eat in order to help grow bones?
I know a 21-year-old, the nicest girl in the world, who has had very weird and unattractive posture ever since I can remember. And now it has a name and I can share with this with her. Thank you so much!
Wish I could edit!
Great information as usual, Vivian. Will keep this in mind. Thank you so much!
You are so right on! I see teenagers already with the FHP because of cell phone use. I call this ‘vulture neck!’ I highly recommend the book “Eight steps to a pain-free back” by Esther Gokhale founder of the gokhalemethod.com. She says we lost our primal posture and traveled around the world to learn how other people who use their backs more than we do, do not have our back problems! The techniques are similar to what was discussed here but for how to sit, stand, sleep and even walk. I used the techniques during yoga, qigong, and even skiing! I used to have back spasms every few months. Then last year got a T7 compression fracture due to improper posture and osteoporosis. THis lead me to the gokhale method book and Vivian’s site here. Both change your life! Thanks, Vivian!
Hi Vivian, Thanks for latest information! I was taught this excercise in PT. However the therapist had me push on the chin to get the head back.
Thank you, thank you for these exercises. I’ve been having major problems with my shoulders and neck — and I know that thrusting my head forward when I’m on the computer is causing my problems. I will definitely use these to (hopefully) undo any damage I have done –and to prevent further issues.
Thank you so much for this article. I have FHP related to a 59 degree C-shaped scoliosis which developed rapidly nearly 2 years ago (I am now 69). Initially I was really careful about my head posture but am finding this harder and harder when standing, especially later in the day. I also lean to the right unless really careful.
Something else I find helps is the weighted Wellness Belt which I think I learnt about from yourself, I wear it such that it pulls me down at the back and makes it easier to stay upright. I also find a version of your shoulder drop and squeeze really good for getting my spine more upright – I clasp my hands behind me whilst doing it (I think this might be a yoga exercise ?) as a way of getting my spine straighter and then try to maintain it. But I didn’t know about chin tucks whilst lying down – I can’t fully do these yet but presume I will improve if I keep trying and think they could be very good.
I did try the Anderson Technique and found it really good, and would like to return to the teacher, it is just fitting it all into my life that I find so difficult as I am so slow at everything because of the scoliosis.
If I could just learn to concentrate on staying upright so this actually happens and I don’t have FHP it would help so much. Thank you for reminding me about this.
Thank you for the reminder, I should have been doing this all my life (I’m an accountant) and now I have severe osteoporosis, and my shoulder blades and pelvis hurt all the time. I’m 69 years old and I find it very difficult to reshape my spine with exercise, and in fact, I can’t lie on the floor to do #2 cause I wouldn’t be able to get up. I would appreciate any additional help to see if I could get better. By the way, you are right, my head is forward a number of inches and my back is curved. Is there anything additional you could provide given my condition?
Vivian, thanks for all the exercises you have given us. Do you know of an exercise that I can do to straighten my back. It is curved and getting worse and I have a lot of pain. I stretch as much as I can and it seems to help but wondered if there was anything else I could do. Thanks again. You are great.
I have FHP (although I didn’t know it had a name!) I am so happy that there is hope that I can get rid of it. I have many of those associated problems which you listed, which have always depressed me. Thanks so much for all your explanations and information. I now feel very encouraged and inspired to do something about it.
God bless you, Vivian
Well Hallelujah!! I recently realized I was pitching forward with my head and neck and have been concentrating on keeping it straight. It sure will be much easier to remedy now with your guidance… My compression fractures are beginning to heal and I am able to lay flat on my bed after several months of “attempting” to sleep in a recliner. I would straighten up as soon as I became aware of what I was doing but no real knowledge of a correct set of circumstances to eventually be more upright over time.. Thanks very much as always for your expertise…..
I also have this problem and have struggled for years. I sit at a desk most of the day which surely doesn’t help. I have had so much pain in the neck and head and also a
slipping rib. This is excellent information–thanks for reminding me. 🙂
Thank you so much for such an informative and very helpfull article going to benefit from this knowlEdge thank you Vivian.
I applaud you for writing this piece! I started to see a chiropractor shortly after my diagnosis of osteoperosis, for my overall general health. I had forward head posture, not as bad as you described but enough that he gave me a similar regiment of exercises. They have worked wonders over the years!!! The curve in my neck is nearly where it should be and I cannot tell you the last time I experienced a headache. This is a very important area and can be so easily corrected or helped but by not doing anything the results are not pretty. I have seen them on family memebers. Thank you!
Thank you….My sons have been telling me to stand up straight!!…Now, I understand…
Your explanation about the weight of our head and the bowling ball is wonderful…I do see that it will require constant awareness of myh posture…Thank you so much VIvian
What do you think about weighted vests?
This is an EXCELLENT exercise. My physiotherapist told me about this a while ago and i try and practise this in my normal day, especially when i am driving and walking. Since being made aware of this condition, i have observed many people , who have this problem, and I am sure they do not know that they walk and sit with FHP. Its a matter of focusing on your posture all the time til it becomes a good habit which replaces the bad habit of FHP.
This reminder is so well timed for me as I am working on the very same problem and think it is working. Have also grown accustomed to lying on my back. Thank you for your encouragement!
Good Morning Vivian,
WOW! Who Knew Those Things About Their Necks. Thank You Very Much For Sharing This Article With Us. It Was Very Informative!
Until Next Time – Take Care, And Stay Well!
LOVE, LESLIE (MS. L. CARMEL)
Thanks for your advice on FHP. I’m aware that our posture is poor when using mobiles, laptops etc. Mary
Forward head posture is exactly what Alexander Technique teachers deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes the posture is too bad to be able to help oneself adequately so I do recommend going to an Alexander teacher for help.
Ihave ehlers danlos syndrome with all the good your saying , I still miss out on having collogen in my bones , so how do I go , how can I help this. Thankyou margann.
You had me until the alkalinity bs. Most of this is good advice but please, you’re breathing is not going to make your body alkaline. Anybody with any medical knowledge will tell you this.