By Dr. Ryan Winslow, a certified corrective chiropractor from Northbrook Illinois specializing in back pain relief.
Let’s explore how your head and low back are connected, and how poor head and neck posture can lead to chronic back pain if left uncorrected.
Sustained poor posture leads to “forward head posture”
Sitting at a desk with the head forward stretches the back of the neck and tightens the front. This is a common problem in today’s society which nearly revolves around seated activities like driving, watching TV, eating and working at a desk. Over time, this posture becomes the natural resting position of the body, and it is known as “forward head posture”. The good news is that this condition is treatable with the proper combination of chiropractic care, exercise and stretching.
Once the head has gone forward, it affects the entire spine from the base of the neck to the low back.
Forward head posture affects the rest of the spine by changing the way you carry your weight. The average head weighs 11 pounds, and is meant to sit over the rest of you spine like a golf ball on a tee. When the head shifts forward it results in a type of posture called “anterior weight bearing”, where the chest is carried a little bit forward along with the head. This is a big deal, since it forces the low back to work overtime.
Posterior neck and low back muscles cramp
In the situation we’ve described, the head and chest have moved forward. But people with this type of posture are still up and walking around. How is this possible? The answer is that the low back muscles are extra tight; they are the last defense for this type of posture. The muscles of the low back attach to the spine and the top of the hips, and join the bottom of the rib cage to them. By pulling these two together, they keep a person with anterior weight carriage upright.
Irritates existing issues, slowing recovery
In some people without back injuries, the altered posture may not cause pain. Unfortunately if someone suffers a lower back injury after this process has begun, it can irritate the low back and slow or stop the healing process. This can lead to chronic recurrent pain and irritation. If we are able to recognize that the forward head posture is one of the major underlying causes of the recurrent back pain, we will focus on reducing it to allow the back to relax. Treatments focused solely on the low back create temporary relief, but they may completely ignore the biomechanical issue with the head. This is one of the main reasons that chiropractors treat the whole spine, and not just one specific area.
Tension on the spinal cord
In addition to putting stress and strain on the low back, forward head posture causes tension on the spinal cord, which runs from the base of the skull to the low back. When the head is carried forward, the spinal cord must lengthen to accommodate, and the whole structure of the spinal cord is pulled tight. This can pull the nerve roots in the low back against bones or bulging discs, causing shooting pain in the legs or buttocks.
Getting checked is easy
Chiropractors are knowledgeable about posture, and many specialize in correcting posture with adjustments, special exercises and a special form of stretching called traction. Give us a call and get your spine checked if any of this sounds a bit too familiar.