For a long time now, Donna has been telling me that I need to stand up straight. I’m developing a slouch, and it’s making me look old.
Well, so I’m getting old, I thought, and more or less ignored the problem for a while. But then, certain things started to make me uneasy. I might catch a glimpse of myself passing a mirror and think that maybe Donna had a point. Every now and then, I would see an older guy in the grocery who was really stooped over, essentially looking at his shoes all the time. I don’t want to end up like that, I would say to myself. Whenever the doctor measured my height, I would be a little shorter each time. I know that the spine compresses with age, but this seemed a little much and I wondered if my slouch had something to do with it.
So onto the internet I went, to discover that I have forward head posture, sometimes called forward head syndrome. It’s not unusual. In fact, some are calling it an epidemic.
Forward head posture can come from a lifetime of bending forward to read a book in your lap or slumping at a desk while doing research and writing at a computer. That’s why it’s sometimes called scholar’s neck or reader’s neck. Constantly bending forward to look at a cell phone can push your head forward. Craning the neck while driving, which I know I do, is also a problem. All those kids heaving backpacks to school every day are at risk.
It’s not a problem that can be solved by will power. I tried that, but as soon as my mind wandered to something other than maintaining erect posture, I slumped again. The key is strengthening the back muscles that hold up your head, and training the chest muscles, which are pulling your head forward, to stretch.
Your heavy head is meant to sit at the top of your double-arched spine, and if you let it loll forward, you’re putting tremendous strain on that spine. The risks of forward head posture include back and neck pain, fractures, reduced breathing capacity, difficulties with digestion, and even depression. Vertebrae can fuse in their distorted position, so that you’ll never be able to straighten up again. That must be what happened to the old guys I was noticing at the grocery store.
When I first mentioned my concerns to my doctor, he suggested yoga. I came home and looked at pictures of supple young people on their mats in seemingly impossible positions, and decided I just couldn’t see myself in a yoga studio. I was probably wrong, since people who know yoga assure me that any good instructor has exercises for folks at all levels of ability.
After I looked at photos of myself taken during a recent visit to Letchworth State Park (a must-see, the Grand Canyon of the East), I realized that something really did have to be done — and soon. So I asked my doctor straight out if there was physical therapy for forward head syndrome.
“Of course,” he said, “no problem,” and he wrote out a prescription.
So I’ve started therapy, and it’s a relief to be taking action at last. My therapist says that since I can still sit with correct posture if I try, I’m not beyond hope. She’s given me some exercises that aren’t too difficult for now, although I suspect they’re going to get tougher as I go along. I’ve raised my laptop with a volume of the Oxford English Dictionary to get it closer to eye level, although I can see that I’m going to have to get a desk top with an adjustable screen mount. When I read a book or magazine, I put it on the music stand, raised to eye level. I sit straight when driving, trying to touch the headrest with the back of my head.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. If you see me and I’m slouching, please remind me to straighten up.
Are you having a problem with forward head posture? Have you had any success in correcting it?