How to fix Forward Head Posture (UPDATED 2020)

forward head posture

A Forward Head Posture is where the position of the head is in front of the mid line of the torso.

(Ideally – the ear canal should be aligned with the mid line of the torso.)

It is also referred to as:

  • Poked neck
  • Forward head carriage
  • Chicken head posture
  • Text neck

What causes a Forward head posture?

It’s all about your habits.

Think about how you sit:

Are you sitting up tall?…. Or are you letting your head poke forward? 

The body will get used to the positions that you choose to place it in.

Over time – certain muscles will tend to weaken and others get tight.

This can eventuate into a Forward Head Posture.

Muscles involved:

A Forward Head Posture is due to a combination of upper cervical extension and lower cervical flexion.

This is caused by the following muscles:

(Look up the location of these muscles on Google!)

a) Tight and/or Overactive muscles:

  • Anterior scalenes
  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Sub-occipital muscles
  • Posterior cervical muscles

b) Weak and/or Inhibited muscles:

  • Deep neck flexors
    • Longus Capitis
    • Longus Colli
  • Lower cervical extensors
    • Multifidus

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How do you know if you have Forward head posture?

a) Method 1:

How do you know if you have Forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Place your back completely flat against the wall.
    • Make sure your pelvis and shoulder blades are in contact with the wall.
    • Do not over arch your lower back.
    • The back of your heels do not have to be touching the wall.
  • Do not tilt your head backwards.
  • Whilst standing in this position, does the back of your head naturally come in contact with the wall? 

Results: If the back of your head does not naturally come into contact with the wall, then you likely have a Forward Head Posture.

b) Method 2:

  • Take a side profile photo of yourself.
  • Draw a line down the mid line of your torso.
  • Draw a line down from your ear canal.
    • This line should be parallel to the mid line of the torso.

Results: If the line from the ear canal is in front of the line of the torso, then you likely have a Forward Head Posture.

How to Fix a Forward Head Posture

 


Recommendation: Perform the following exercises 2-3/week to gain a sense of what each exercise feels like.
Over time –  see how your body responds and adjust frequency accordingly.

1. Neck releases

To being with – tight muscles that are holding your posture in the wrong position will need to be released and stretched.

a) Sub-Occipital + Posterior Neck Muscles

Forward head posture exercises

Instructions:

  • Place a massage ball at the back of your neck.
  • Gently rotate your head from side to side to emphasize certain areas.
  • (Generally speaking – if it hurts, you are on the right area.)
  • Make sure to cover the muscle from the base of the skull to the base of the neck.
  • Continue for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Alternatively: If you do not have a massage ball, you can apply pressure to the same areas by pressing in with your fingers.


Note: If you start to feel dizzy or your pain gets significantly worse, apply less pressure on the neck as you may not be used to the exercise yet.


b) Sternocleidomastoid

scm release

Instructions:

  • Locate the target areas. (Sternocleidomastoid)
  • You should be able to feel a prominent band of muscle on each side of the neck.
  • Do not to press too deep as you may hit other sensitive structures of the neck.
  • Gently massage these muscles with a pinch grip.
  • Duration: 1 minute each side.

2. Neck stretches

a) Sub-Occipital

stretches for forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Place one hand at the front of your chin and the other at the back of your head.
  • Apply a force to the front of your chin as to gently glide the chin backwards.
  • Whilst maintaining this pressure, proceed to pull your head forward/down.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the back of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Posterior neck

neck stretch back

Instructions:

  • Gently tuck your chin in.
  • Look down.
  • With your hands at the back of your head, pull your head down.
  • Aim to feel the stretch at the back of your middle/upper neck.
  • Hold for a minimum for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

c) Sternocleidomastoid

Instructions:

  • Gently tuck your chin in.
  • Rotate your head towards the side you want to stretch.
  • Tilt your head to the side away from the side you want to stretch.
  • Use your hand to pull your head further into the tilt.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

d) Anterior scalene

Instructions:

  • Look up and rotate your head to the side.
  • Place your hand on the collar bone on the opposite side to which you have rotated to.
  • Pull the skin on the collar bone downwards.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 2 times.
  • Do both sides.

3. Improve spine mobility

If the joints in your neck are stiff, it may potentially make the rest of the exercises less effective.

a) Decompress the sides of the neck

Instructions:

  • Tilt your head to the side.
    • (“Ear to the shoulder”)
  • Place your hand on the side of your head and apply a gentle pressure.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Avoid any pinching sensation on the side you are pulling your head towards.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 2 times.
  • Do both sides.

b) Chin tuck with over pressure

retractoverpressure

Instructions:

  • Lie on the floor with your knees bent.
    • Use a thin pillow if required.
  • Tuck your chin in.
  • Place your hands on your chin (see above) and apply a downward pressure
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

c) Neck mobility

Your neck joints may be stuck in the poked neck position. Let’s free them up!

Instructions:

  • Tuck your chin.
    • (think about the movement as a book sliding back into the shelf)
  • Whilst maintaining this chin tucked position, proceed to look up/down.
  • Ensure that you do not poke your chin out excessively during the movement.
  • You should feel a “bruisy” (… but not painful!) sensation at the base of your neck.
    • If it is painful, limit the amount you look upwards.
  • Repeat 30 times.

d) Self neck traction

poked neck stretches

Instructions:

  • Tie a resistance band to a stationary object. (Height: ~3-4 feet)
  • Lie on the floor with your knees bent.
  • Wrap the band under the base of the skull.
  • Whilst still holding the band with your hands, slowly shuffle your body away from the anchor point.
  • Let go and let the band pull your head.
  • Move as far away until you can feel a stretch at the back of your neck.
  • Completely relax.
  • Hold for 1 minute.
  • Note: Place a small towel between your head and the band if you feel more comfortable.

4. Chin nods


The following exercises will target the deep neck flexors.

 

This group of muscles assist with maintaining the correct position of the head.


a) Chin nods (head supported)

Chin nod

Instructions:

  • Lie down on the floor with your head supported with a thin pillow.
  • Make sure that your chin is not jutting forwards.
  • Gently perform a chin nod.
    •  (as if to say ‘yes’).
  • Aim to feel a gentle muscular contraction at the front of your throat.
  • Relax your neck muscles as much as possible. You should not be straining!
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 30 times.
  • Note: If this exercise is too difficult, start with using a thicker pillow. 

b) Chin nod holds (sitting)

exercises for forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Sit up right.
  • Slightly nod your chin downwards.
  • Place a closed fist underneath your chin.
  • Gently push your chin down onto your fist
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Aim to feel a gentle contraction at the front of your throat.
  • Repeat 2-3 times.

5. Chin Tuck

a) Chin tuck

chintuck

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting upright, gently tuck your chin in.
    • “Make a double chin.”
  • Aim to feel a gentle lengthening sensation at the back of your neck.
  • A common mistake I often see is the person starts to move their head up/down. Make sure your eyes and jaw stay level, and move the head horizontally backwards.
    • Think of the movement like a book sliding back into the shelf.
  • Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 30 times.

As this exercise becomes easier, challenge yourself with the following exercise progressions…

b) Chin tuck (against gravity)

chin tuck against gravity

Instructions:

  • Whilst lying on your stomach and your head off the edge of a bed (as above), continue to gently tuck your chin in as described before.
  • (Since you are moving your head against gravity, there is a greater challenge on your muscles.)
  • Aim to hold for 5 seconds with 30 repetition.

c) Chin tuck (with resistance band)

retractionwithresistance

Instructions:

  • Apply a resistance band around the back of your neck. (see above)
  • Pull the band as to increase the tension on the band.
  • Proceed to do a chin tuck against the resistance band.
  • Aim to hold for 5 seconds with 20 repetitions.

6. Chin tuck + Nod

a) Chin tuck/nod with head lift

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
    • (Support your head on a pillow if required.)
  • Gently flatten your tongue to the roof of your mouth throughout the exercise.
    • This will help engage the right muscles.
  • Tuck your chin in.
  • Nod your chin downwards.
  • Whilst keeping your chin in the nodded position, lift your head off the ground.
    • Imagine you are gently squashing an apple between your lower jaw and throat throughout movement.
  • Lift as high or as low as you are comfortable.
  • Aim to feel the contraction of the muscles at the front of your neck.
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.
  • Make sure that you DO NOT let your chin jut forward
  • Note: If you find this exercise difficult, support the weight of your head with your finger tips.

 

7. Address the Dowager’s Hump

dowager's hump

The Dowager’s hump is an enlarged prominence that is formed at the lower region of the neck.

(… it’s a big bump that sits at the base of your neck!)

It consists of having an excessive amount of flexion at the cervico-thoracic junction.

If you have this, it is likely a major factor that is contributing to your Forward Head Posture! (… and is possibly limiting the effectiveness of the exercises.)

Do you have it?
For more information, check out this blog post:

 

8. Address Hunchback Posture

If the thoracic spine (upper back) is hunched forwards, it can force the head to poke forwards.

Do you have it?
For more information, check out this blog post:

 

9. Address Rounded Shoulders

rounded shoulders

Having Rounded Shoulders is when the resting shoulder position is in front of the mid line of the torso. 

The forward position of the shoulders can pull your head forwards along with it.

Do you have it?
For more information, check out this blog post:

 

10. Elongate your neck!

As you go throughout your day, it is important to practice maintaining your head in a more optimal position.

The aim is to

  • elongate your neck,
  • reduce compression,
  • eliminate muscle over-activity

To achieve this, think about holding your head this way:

With your chin held in a slightly tucked in position, imagine your head as a balloon that is floating away from your shoulders.

Aim to keep your neck muscles as relaxed as possible.

Do not force your head into a position that it can not naturally hold with minimum effort

11. Learn to breathe properly

You might be asking yourself:

What has breathing got to do with fixing a Forward Head Posture?

(… A lot!)

The muscles which are predominantly responsible for the forward position of your head are the Sternocleidomastoid and Scalenes.

These muscles are also accessory muscles to your breathing.

During relaxed breathing, it is ideal to have your diaphragm as your main breathing muscle.

However, with breathing inefficiencies, these accessory muscles will tend to over activate which can then pull the head forward.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Instructions:

  • Assume the position as shown above.
    • Use a pillow if required.
  • Remember to keep your neck completely relaxed.
    • Gently flatten your tongue up to the roof of your mouth
    • Keep your mouth closed throughout this exercise.
  • Breathe in: Breathe and expand into your rib cage.
    • (“imagine a ring around the lower portion of your rib cage expanding in a 360 degrees direction.”)
  • Breathe out: Slowly push out ALL of the air out of your lungs
    • Your lower ribs should depress and lower back flatten against the floor. 
  • Repeat 5 times.

12. Extra tips

a) When sleeping on your back:

Do not use an overly thick pillow to support the neck as this will push your head forward.

Ideal neck alignment should be maintained whilst lying down.

For more information: Best sleeping posture.

 

b) Use your mobile phone properly:


Optimize your head position by bringing your mobile closer up to your eye level.

For more information: How to fix Text Neck.

 

c) Optimize your workstation:

It is next to impossible to sit with good posture if your work station is not properly set up.

Check out my free ebook: How to set up your workstation.

 

d) Minimize breathing through the mouth

Breathing with an open mouth tends to encourage the over-activity of the muscles that are responsible for a Forward Head posture. 

Keep that mouth closed!

If you have blocked sinuses that make it difficult to breathe through the nose, I would encourage you to get this sorted out as well.

 

e) Set up your car seat better

Many head rests tend to significantly push your head forwards. (… which I presume is a safety feature of the car?)

It will be difficult, but try your best to adjust your seat to promote a better posture.


Closing words

When fixing Forward Head Posture, I suspect a few of you may get a little bit discouraged in the beginning.

.. and I completely get it.

Your posture might not change as quickly as you’d like it to.

The plain truth is: It takes time to fix your posture.

My intention with this blog post was to provide you with everything that you will ever need to know to completely address this issue.

I hope it serves you well.

All the best!

 


What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!

511 thoughts on “How to fix Forward Head Posture (UPDATED 2020)”

  1. Hi Mark,
    What is the reason for flattening the tongue against the roof of the mouth in the diaphragmatic breathing exercise?
    Additionally, where should the tongue be at rest? I have come across people stating improper tongue position can lead to forward head posture.
    Best,
    Ben

    Reply
    • Hey Ben,

      In regards to the tongue position – There are many different thoughts about this, but essentially I use it to help reduce tension in the superficial muscles of the neck (namely the Sternocleidamastoid and Scalenes) as this is a common driver of the forward head posture.

      These same muscles are called “Accessory breathing muscles” which are recruited during labored breathing. It is more of an issue if you recruit these muscles during relaxed normal breathing.

      Mark

  2. Hello Mark,
    I started doing the Forward head posture correction exercises but I stopped because the right side of my neck muscles (upper traps, etc) is way stiffer than the left. Is it wrong to do the correction exercises like that? Will that make the imbalance worse? My posture is really affecting my quality of life. i stopped university (physics) last semester because I can not study at all without pain/headaches.

    Thanks alot for your effort..

    Reply
    • Hey Khaled,

      The exercises should not make anything worse.

      If it does – cease the exercises immediately.

      You will need to find exactly why and what is getting worse and go from there.

      Sometimes – you might need to just drop the intensity by half and ease into the exercises.

      Mark

    • Hi Tadas,

      Yes – especially if the SCM is very tight.

      In most cases, however, you will need to add some sort of lateral tilt and/or rotation to get the full stretch of the SCM.

      Mark

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