Uncovering the Health Consequences of Anterior Head Carriage: The Impact of Head Position on Your Health
Your head’s position and posture might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your health, but it plays a crucial role in your overall well-being. Anterior head carriage, a common postural issue, can have profound and often overlooked effects on your health. Anterior head carriage, also known as forward head posture, occurs when your head protrudes forward from its ideal alignment with your spine. It’s a condition that has become increasingly prevalent in our modern, technology-driven world. Hours spent hunched over computers, smartphones, or other digital devices contribute to this postural problem.
The natural curve of the spine, particularly in the neck, is essential for even weight distribution, proper alignment, and the ability to support the head efficiently. When you have anterior head carriage, the alignment of your head shifts forward in relation to your shoulders, leading to a cascade of health issues.
This week, I reviewed the neck x-rays of a 13-year-old girl, whom her mother asked me to examine. The mother’s main concern was that, despite her daughter being extremely sporty and active, her neck always seemed craned forward, as if she were in fast-forward mode. This young lady participates in touch rugby, league, tag, and yoga, so she’s certainly not a couch potato. She also reported difficulty taking a full breath and her constant habit of circling her neck to make a rotatory click/crack sound.
The results below show a marked deterioration in the cervical lordosis (the normal neck curve), which had become reversed. This was quite surprising to me, especially in such a young person. The mother believed that her daughter’s neck had been this way for about two years, starting at 11 years old.
To understand the implications of anterior head carriage, it’s helpful to consider the weight of your head. On average, an adult head weighs about 10-14 pounds or 4.5-5.5kg in a neutral spine. However, the weight of your head increases as your head moves forward from its ideal position. The weight of the head increases as follows:
|Position of the head
|Weight of the head
|27 lb / 12.2 Kg
|40 lb / 18.1 Kg
|49 lb / 22.2 Kg
|60 lb / 27.2 Kg
The consequences of this added stress can manifest as chronic neck pain, headaches, and muscle tension. Over time, it can lead to more serious issues, including disc compression and degeneration. The farther forward your head moves, the more pronounced these problems become.
One reason the clicking continues to recur in this 13-year-old girl is the chronic vertebral subluxations present in her neck. In the short term, she likely experiences increased movement and breakdown in joint stability. There is extra laxity above the subluxated vertebrae, not to mention the added weight and force exerted on the joints, discs, muscles, and ligaments from trying to support the extra weight of the head. It’s also nearly impossible to achieve maximum lateral flexion (sideways movement of your ear to your shoulder) when your head is well forward of your shoulders. Try it now – jut your chin forward and attempt to gently bend your ear toward your shoulder. You’ll feel a hard and uncomfortable catching sensation. Imagine living your life with this? Or even worse, growing up with this!
Anterior head carriage can also have far-reaching effects on other aspects of your health. The position of your head plays a role in your ability to breathe effectively. When your head is not correctly aligned with your spine, it can restrict lung capacity and hinder proper breathing. In fact, anterior head carriage is thought to reduce vital lung capacity by up to 30%. Again, jut your head forward and take a deep breath in. Now sit up straight and take another deep breath in.. It is mind-blowingly easier to breathe in a more neutral posture. If the lungs are working harder, what else works harder? You guessed it – the cardiovascular system.
We recently returned from a fantastic conference in Melbourne, where we were reminded during one of the research presentations by Dr Deed Harrison of the potential consequences throughout the body, not just the spine, in young people with this condition. The data indicates that forward head posture affects the autonomic nervous system and cervical sensorimotor control. Specifically, these are measured by:
- Cervical sensorimotor control:
- Smooth pursuit neck torsion (SPNT)
- Overall stability index (OSI)
- Left and right rotation repositioning accuracy
- Autonomic Nervous system function measurements included:
- Amplitude and latency of skin sympathetic response (SSR)
- The forward head posture was measured by the craniovertebral angle, which should be more than 50 degrees.
The results confirmed that participants with forward head posture exhibited abnormal sensorimotor control and autonomic nervous system dysfunction compared to those with normal head posture.
Chiropractic care, guided by the research of people like Dr’s Deed Harrison and Heidi Haavik, offers a holistic approach to address anterior head carriage and its consequences. Chiropractors are trained to identify and correct vertebral subluxations causing postural issues in the spine by utilising spinal adjustments to restore proper alignment and neuromuscular control, relieving stress on these important systems in the body.
So, if you are concerned about your own posture or that of your young people, there is much more to it than just their cosmetic appearance. Their forward head position affects other systems in the body, including the autonomic nervous system, their general health, as well as their level of adaptation and coordination. In my more than 20 years of experience, it’s fair to say that the posture of our young people is deteriorating. Just observe our young people before and after school, waiting for the bus, or even on the bus! Their heads are constantly looking down at the devices we once used solely as phones. Let’s give them a break.
When the pressure of exams and school eases off this summer, make time for your kids to have a chiropractic care program to ensure their heads are in the right space so they can fulfil not only their posture but also their full potential. Their health is in your hands.
Dr Simon Kelly (Chiropractor, MNZCA)
Mt Eden Chiropractic