Ever walk in a grocery store and notice an elderly person bending forward with a “granny” hump on their neck? Or perhaps a colleague who works day and night staring at a computer screen, with their head jutting forward? Perhaps it is a couple who like to watch TV or read daily, only to lay down on their backs and place two to three pillows underneath their heads. How about folks who drive a lot, with their heads jutting forward off of the head rest (“bug on the windshield posture”). Maybe even a young mother, or worse yet, children who constantly look down at Tablets, computers, Ipads, Ipods, (I-anything for that matter), mobile phones, and screens, who are beginning to show signs of Anterior Head Syndrome.
What is Anterior Head Syndrome (AHS)? AHS is an acquired, primary structural spinal condition that is an increasing epidemic, often due to lifestyle choices and traumas. Various activities can cause the head and cervical (neck) spine to mold and shape to a more forward position. These effects are devastating to one's health. According to Physiology of the Joints, Volume 3, “For every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” The adult head weighs anywhere from 12-15 lbs, and you can only imagine the extra stress on the neck muscles and discs should AHS not be addressed. No wonder why people can feel fatigue and soreness in their necks, shoulders, and back after a long day at work. Like putting your hand in wet cement, it can mold to your hand print as it dries. The spine does the same with abnormal spinal posture.
What can happen if I don't correct AHS? Secondary conditions from abnormal spinal structure in the neck can include the following: arthritis, arm pain, back pain, bone spurs, carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical stenosis, decreased grip strength, degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis), disc herniations, dizziness, dowager's Hump (“granny hump”), fatigue, Fibromyalgia, golfer's or tennis elbow, headaches, hearing difficulties, jaw pain (TMJ), neck pain and muscle spasms, numbness and tingling in the arms and hands, rotator cuff issues, shoulder pain, sinus conditions, vision issues, and wrist pain. According to the prestigious journal Spine, Forward head posture has been shown to flatten the normal neck curve, resulting in disc compression, disc damage, and early arthritis, even in people who exhibit no symptoms. Of the many people who do not have symptoms from AHS, permanent spinal damage can occur if not addressed with spinal corrective care.
What the neck should look like: The cervical spine should have a nice arc when looking at the side of the body, with the inner flap of the ear (tragus) in a direct line over the shoulder (acromion). From the front view, the head should be perfectly aligned over the chest. Research according to Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Alf Breig, a once prominent neurosurgeon, proved that “Loss of the cervical curve stretches the spinal cord 5-7 cm (2 to 3 inches) and causes disease.” In my practice, after a thorough exam and radiographic analysis, I routinely see patients with 1-4 inches of anterior head syndrome. That extra force on the spine attributes to 10-40lbs of additional head weight on the neck muscles and torso. Elongation of the spinal cord 2 to 3 inches, combined with 10-40 pounds of extra weight on the cervical spine can contribute to a myriad of neurological conditions over time. AHS can occur through years of improper biomechanics and bad neck habits, or an instant automobile whiplash. It doesn't occur in a day or two after looking down on your Smartphone. Problems begin to arise over years of abnormal wear patterns on the spine (much like a tire spinning along a bent axle – the tire tread will wear unevenly).
What to Do About AHS: Whether your goal is to reduce Arthritis and pain, help sinus problems and headaches, or reduce the “granny hump” on your upper back, there are few ways to help improve AHS. After a series of radiographs, we use a specific protocol tailored individually for each patient. We use specialized spinal restorative equipment to gently and slowly shape the neck closer to its normal position. We also use specific spinal chiropractic adjusting and therapeutic exercises that are safe and beneficial, by increasing cervical mobility. In addition, modified changes in your daily lifestyle will be implemented, by identifying bad habits that cause AHS, including specific AHS exercises, changing driving position, updated sitting and sleeping positions, improved biomechanics when working out, and others. Keep in mind; no “magic pill or potion” is going to help restore a proper neck curve.
How Do I Find The Right Doctor For Me? Traditional doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, and even dare I write, many doctors who share my own profession of Chiropractic, do little to show evidence of improving AHS. For the best results, find a provider or Chiropractor that specializes in Chiropractic Biophysics, or can show you evidence of spinal change in addition to merely helping you feel better. Just like working with a trainer, achieving the best results for your body in the gym is no different. It takes a strong desire for improvement and additional work on your own time to obtain the best results. When training in the gym, you may notice results slowly, and after a period of time, even greater results! AHS correction is no different.
Working with a chiropractor who focuses on spinal correction along with making simple changes to your home and work routines will pay huge dividends in your spinal health.