We’re going to examine forward head posture and how to fix it. It’s a well-studied area showing that all sorts of problems stem from FHP, including breathing issues, arthritis, and shoulder impingement.
Is forward head posture correctable?
Even if you have some pain or the above problems, waking up the supporting muscles in your spine can correct and even reverse some of the wear and tear.
Simple neck and chest stretches like the cobra pose will never fix your forward head posture. Instead, we’re going to look at active exercises that allow you to effortlessly maintain good posture all day long.
Our approach to fixing forward head posture is a bit different than what you might have seen in other videos and articles on the subject.
If you want a video to follow along with, check out our video on YouTube: Stretching WON’T Fix Forward Head Posture [But THESE exercises will!]
Forward Head Posture Causes
You might be here because you have FHP and the two most common reasons we see for people seeking ways to correct it are aesthetics or pain.
People will come to us with some kind of pain or problem, and we will cover the different issues that can occur if you don’t deal with FHP effectively.
Why do so many people have FHP these days?
Look around if you’re walking through a city or stopped at a stoplight. You’ll see people with terrible posture standing, sitting, and doing everyday things.
Honestly, it’s almost as bad for your health as being overweight. Looking at the stats, 61.3% of Canadians and 69% of Americans are overweight or obese. Both forward head posture and being overweight are the norm.
But, if you can notice it in others, you can use it as your cue to check your own posture.
People also sell forward head posture braces and correctors that are supposed to pull your shoulders back into place. But these won’t strengthen the deep muscles and train your body to maintain good posture without thinking about it.
The better strategy is building your muscle strength and neuromuscular patterns to unconsciously hold good posture without the need for buying more stuff that will likely as not end up in the back of a closet.
Anatomy of the Spine
The spine has multiple joints. We have 33 vertebrae between our skulls and our pelvis. Each vertebra has little joints at the back called fascicles and discs for padding between each one.
Nerves come out from the spinal cord to connect our muscles.
There are many layers to the muscles around your spinal cord, both deep and superficial. The interesting thing is that they cross many joints. They control not just the cervical spine (which is the upper seven vertebrae) but also connect to the thoracic spine (12 vertebrae) and then our lumbar (5 vertebrae).
Image by Thom Graves, CMI on weillcornellbrainandspine.org
When we run into difficulty with forward head posture, we increase thoracic kyphosis. You can see how this will change the alignment of the cervical spine and the lumbar spine.
What happens is the little joints and discs get pinched at the back of the spine. The discs become compressed.
When you overload a structure, it wears out. Wearing out, or wear and tear as we call it, leads to all sorts of problems. In this case, the wear and tear on the nerves and spinal muscles create pain.
Forward Head Posture Symptoms & Resulting Issues
There is quite a bit of research on forward head posture. We want to address some of the more relevant, recent studies and how they relate to poor head posture.
If you’re dealing with pain or some of the symptoms that might come about, the first study looks at FHP and how it influences degeneration of the discs in our spine. It shows clearly that if you have FHP, your spinal discs deteriorate faster.
Meaning you get arthritis earlier.
Image by Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014“
Study #1: Relationship between disc degeneration and forward head posture
Now don’t flip out if you’ve been to the doctor, and they told you that you have degenerative disc disease after an x-ray. It’s not a death sentence. The real message for you is that you need to correct your posture. Change how you’re loading your discs and prevent the discs from deteriorating more rapidly. 
Study #2: FHP and neck muscle tension
Another study looks at forward head posture and muscle tension. People with FHP tend to have more tension in the muscles around their neck and shoulder girdle. They have more trigger points and more pain. 
You may have experienced this yourself when sitting at your desk. You get that pain in your upper trap. You may get a massage and feel great for a few days. But it comes back.
Study #3: Chronic headaches/migraines
A third study looks at the association between migraines and headaches with FHP.
Most people don’t think about this. They take some Tylenol, feel better, and try not to think about headaches again until the next time they have one.
But, there is a distinct association between forward head posture and headaches. This is because those tight muscles that occur from poor posture cause pain to radiate from the neck muscles up into your head. 
Study #4: Shoulder impingement syndrome
One condition that Dr. B commonly encounters in her practice is shoulder impingement due to forward head posture.
When someone has FHP, it changes the alignment of the shoulder blades, decreasing the space for the rotator cuff tendons. The tendons pinch more readily, causing pain. 
If you have shoulder impingement symptoms, start with correcting your forward head posture and see if that alleviates the impingement symptoms.
Study #5: The influence of FHP on breathing
Finally, this last study found a huge connection between forward head posture and diminished ability in the muscles you use to breathe.
Your diaphragm and the muscles between your ribs need to work for you to take big, full breaths. Under filling your lungs creates problems beyond not getting enough oxygen into your system fast enough. 
Why We Put Together This Set of Techniques
Before we dive into the exercises, we want you to know the four main benefits of our approach at Precision Movement over the most common methods you’ll find in other content.
First, we use all active techniques. Everything activates muscles and strengthens muscles.
Second, we prioritize the deep muscles over the superficial ones. That’s the key to effortlessly maintaining your good posture throughout the day.
Third, the sequence of exercises was put together intentionally to maximize the effect on your body and take the least amount of your time.
Fourth, we also have some unique techniques that you won’t find elsewhere.
Forward Head Posture Exercises
Let’s get started. The only thing you’ll need is a peanut ball about roughly 15 minutes. You can also use a foam roller just as effectively if you don’t have a peanut ball.
1. ASMR: Lateral Neck
The first technique is called self myofascial release for the sternocleidomastoid muscle. People with FHP tend to have hypertrophied (opposite of atrophied) muscles here because it works harder and more than it need to.
So we’re going to shut it off.
- Point your chin toward your armpit
- Place your fingers right under the ear on the same side
- Draw a diagonal with your chin, up and away from your armpit
- While moving your head, slide your fingers down your neck all the way to the end of the muscle on top of your shoulder
- Repeat the movement for 1 minute on each side
Don’t push so hard that you choke yourself. We’re only trying to release the trigger points and lengthen the muscle.
It may feel a little tender the first few times, but it releases tension in your sternocleidomastoid. As you turn off this muscle, the next exercises will teach your brain to engage the correct ones for proper posture.
2. Supine Chin Tuck
Now we are going to help activate your posture muscles properly through actively lengthening your short vertical extensors. You will need to lay on the ground for this one.
Focus on lengthening your spine as much as possible without lifting your head off the ground.
- Lay flat on your back with a long spine
- Anchor your tongue to the roof of your mouth, keeping it closed
- Rotate your chin downward toward your neck
- Hold for 5 seconds
- Breathe naturally, making sure to expand the rib cage
- Gradually release
- Perform 2 sets of 5 reps with 5 second holds
You will feel tension along the back of your neck as those muscle stretch out. The goal is to feel tension in the muscles in the front of your neck.
You might give yourself a tension headache if you push too hard. Take it easy at first. Any headache should disappear within 24 to 48 hours.
3. Segmental Thoracic Mobilization
You will need a peanut ball or foam roller for this one, the segmental thoracic mobilization. Some people prefer the peanut ball, but your foam roller will work just fine.
We will work the thoracic spine, so from about your mid-back to the bottom of your neck. Try to perform this exercise on 5 different areas of your thoracic spine. If you’re short, you might only be able to do 4 areas.
- Lay with the peanut ball low on your thoracic spine – about the mid-back
- Extend back and slowly curl partway up 3 times
- Extend back and slowly do 3 side bends
- Move the ball up slightly on your spine and repeat
They key here is slow, controlled movements.
If this hurts more than normally foam rolling, try using your foam roller up and down your back to release some tension in the superficial muscles.
Because you’re getting some muscle activation, it’s an active technique. That translates to maintaining good posture through increasing the extension throughout your t-spine and more length to your spine overall.
Being a little taller never hurt, right?
4. T-Spine Extension ERE
Let’s make what we’ve done so far stick with thoracic spine extension end range expansion. Since that’s a mouthful, T-spine extension ERE.
You can check out this article that goes into a little bit more detail on how to correct hunchback.
- Start in the 4 point position
- Start off in extension – butt out, chin up
- Tuck the pelvis segment by segment all the way up your lumbar spine
- Keep your thoracic spine extended throughout this exercise
- Flex the cervical spine by looking down
- Hold for 10-20 seconds
- Slowly release
- Perform 3 – 5 cycles
The goal is to feel the muscles in your t-spine working, so they will hold good posture for you all day. The flexion in your lumber and cervical spine force your t-spine to work extra hard, building strength.
Keep your elbows straight throughout the whole of the exercise. Your scapula should stay away from each other (protracted) to get the deep muscles fired up.
It’s a tricky technique to get the hang of, but really powerful. Most people with forward head posture haven’t worked those muscles in a long time.
5. DIS: Shoulder Flexion / Lumbar Extension
The last exercise is one of our patented dissociation techniques focusing on isolating muscles and retraining your brain to use the correct muscles groups in the correct order for certain movement patterns.
Oftentimes, when someone flexes their shoulders, they hyperextend the spine to get more range. Think of the muscles you use when you reach into the back of the top cupboard to get something.
Keep your abs engaged and your chin tucked for this one.
- Stand naturally, arms at your sides
- Keeping your elbows extended, slowly raise your arms
- As you’re raising your arms, tuck your pelvis to engage the lumbar spine
- Hold your arms above your head with your lumbar flexed for 5 seconds
- Bring your arms slowly down while posteriorly tilting your pelvis
- Do 2 sets of 3 cycles
You can also work up to this one by starting with 1 set. Plus, you can get extra practice in by keeping this routine in mind whenever you reach for something overhead.
Final Thoughts on FHP
If you do these exercises 3 or 4 times a week for the next two to four weeks, you should start noticing a huge improvement in your posture, even when you aren’t consciously holding it. Start slow and take your time.
Take the routine with you with our forward head posture exercises PDF cheatsheet.
Building on these small changes will let you gain strength, and you’ll repattern your neuromuscular system to minimize wear and tear.
You might also like our free ROM Coach app if these exercises helped you today. There is a daily movement training which will address every area of the body over about two weeks. It only takes 5 minutes, so anyone can fit it in to their schedule.
For more serious back concerns, you might look into our Spine Control program which focuses on improving mobility and restoring deep abdominal and spinal muscles.
Thanks for sticking with us. Keep up your efforts on your movement longevity journey!