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Working from home? How’s your neck doing?

Working from home? How’s your neck doing?


Newsflash, humans just aren’t designed for sitting in front of computers or staring down at phone screens all day. If people’s screens are positioned too low,  they can develop what is known as a ‘forward head’ posture. This is where the head permanently sits forward out of its normal alignment, putting a mechanical strain on the structures of the neck and upper back. It causes some muscles to shorten and tighten, and others to stretch and get weaker.  This is an excellent article that gives some more detail of what happens to our muscles in this condition. A forward head position also strains the spinal joints of the neck and upper back, and can have knock-on effects to other parts of the body. 

If you want to see if you’ve got a ‘forward head’ position, have a look at a photo of yourself taken side on. Ideally, you should be able to draw a straight line through your ears and the middle of your shoulders. You can also get an idea by standing with your back to a wall with your normal posture - the back of your head should be touching or close to the wall. No cheating. The figure below will give you an idea of what to look for.


Some of the classic problems that people can develop as a direct result of ‘forward head’ include neck pain and stiffness, pain across the upper back, headaches, and even jaw pain. It can also lead to the middle back (thoracic spine) becoming more rounded (kyphotic) and impaired breathing mechanics. This extra rounding of the thoracic spine is called ‘hyperkyphosis’ and has even been associated with earlier death!  

If you think you have a ‘forward head’ position, the good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to recover your natural posture and alleviate any symptoms. 

For a start, whether you are office based, or a home worker, the design and comfort (ergonomics) of your computer setup is really important. Although most people (should) know the basics, this 3 minute video shows the main points to be aware of. For me, the most important thing for combatting ‘forward head’ is making sure the screen is high enough, with the  top of the screen being at about eye level.  

Although there are dozens of different exercises that can help with forward head, I like to start with this one, the ‘Chin Tuck’, as it’s particularly effective, easy to remember and easy to perform. The ‘Chin Tuck’ draws your head back into its natural balanced position and helps strengthen deep muscles at the front of your neck, and also stretches the muscles at the base of the skull. This exercise also gets your body reacquainted with what it feels like to have your head in the right position again.  

How to do the Chin Tuck Exercise

  • Retract your head back until it sits over your shoulders.

  • Make a double chin as if nodding.

  • Feel for a stretch at the base of your head and top of your neck

  • Hold for 5 seconds then relax.

  • Repeat several times a day.

This is a good 1 minute video featuring a chiropractor (who said osteopaths and chiropractors can’t play nicely) that demonstrates the exercise really well.

 How can osteopathy help?

To help a patient with a ‘forward head’ problem, I would look to identify and address the muscular and postural imbalances in the neck, shoulders and chest. This could mean the massage, stretching and/or strengthening of particular muscles, and recommending targeted exercises. I would also be looking at how the patient’s spine is functioning as a whole - concentrating not just on the neck, but also the middle and lower back, where the postural pressure often transmits to. Generally, patients can alleviate their symptoms (pain/stiffness) quite quickly, but recovery of a neutral head posture can take more time and effort.

Come and see me for your neck and back pain at Osteostudio in Ashurst Wood, East Grinstead.

Cliff Russell, Registered Osteopath

You can follow my blog here or on Facebook.


Author: Cliff Russell - Registered Osteopath

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