How to Improve Neck Posture

Posted by Steve Sudell on

Forward head posture, also referred to as "text neck," has become an increasingly common problem related to poor posture, especially amongst today's younger generation. These days, many people's daily work lives are spent hunched over their desk and staring at their computer for long periods of time, which is a common cause of neck pain. In their free time or breaks, you might see them looking down at their phone either texting or browsing. Studies show that people are spending more time than ever sedentary, absorbing television entertainment and interacting with social media. This constant head in front of shoulders, forward posture, is associated with a natural rounding of the shoulders and upper back over time. As you might imagine, poor posture such as “tech neck” creates undue stress and issues in the region of the neck, causing extreme pain in many cases.

We use our necks for just about every activity in our daily lives. Even when in the structurally sound and natural position, the muscles in the neck still have to work constantly in order to support and hold up our heads which can weigh up to twelve pounds. However, when that all-important group of muscles is sticking forward past its intended position, it creates a considerable amount of pressure placed on the spine. As mentioned, a head in a proper position, naturally resting above the shoulders, will weigh approximately twelve pounds. But, a head that is even a few inches forward will create a strain on the muscles of the neck that feels more like twenty to thirty pounds thanks to the lack of weight bearing support and the additional force of gravity pulling the head down and neck forward. Over time, this can lead to neck and shoulder stiffness or pain, breathing problems and other health issues.  

Neck posture should be taken seriously as just one wrong posture over a period of time can cause permanent damage. Proper neck and shoulder posture will not only prevent potential damage to your spine, but it will also make you appear healthier, taller, and more confident. Correcting your posture may feel unnatural or awkward, especially in the beginning, but habits take time, practice, and repetition, in order to form. If you dedicate a small amount of time and effort into correcting this bad habit, good posture will become second nature and you will experience neck pain relief. 

So, if you want to learn how to improve your neck posture read these tips below.  

What Good Neck Posture Looks Like

Forward head posture forces the muscles in your upper back and neck to work harder to keep your head upright and on a swivel. Ideally, if you were to draw a line from the top of your head to the base of your spine, everything should be in a straight line.

Good posture looks like:

  1. A neutral spine
  2. Braced abdominal muscles
  3. Arms at your sides with elbows straight and even
  4. Body weight distributed evenly on both feet
  5. Chest out
  6. Chin parallel to the floor
  7. Even hips
  8. Even knees pointing straight ahead
  9. Even shoulders that are pulled back
  10. Knuckles naturally facing to either side rather than straight

In the cases of bad posture, the head will protrude forward so that the back of the head is now in line with the base of the spine. This happens for two main reasons:

  • Weakened Muscles – The deep cervical flexors are meant to hold the head in this neutral, aligned position. Muscle strength affects balance and posture in a variety of ways. Our core muscles, namely those in the back, pelvis, side, and buttocks, create structural support linking your lower and upper body. Weak core muscles encourage the spine to slump, which leans the body forward and pulls the spine out of balance and alignment.
  • Inflexible Muscles – Overactive and tightened muscles can decrease the range of motion and cause your head to pull forward. For example, a person who regularly bench-presses but does not work out their upper back will have overly tight chest muscles which in turn pull the shoulders forward. These muscle groups work to balance and counteract each other, but if one is significantly weaker than the other, they will have difficulty functioning in harmony.

So in order to fix neck posture, you have to stretch the muscles that are tight and strengthen the muscles that are weak.  

Most Common Posture Mistakes

To practice good neck posture, it is important you identify the possible bad habits you have formed over the years. They include:

  • Chair Slouching – While slouching in a chair may feel more comfortable at the moment, over time it can place a strain on muscles and soft tissue, especially on the neck. While it may not feel normal or even comfortable in the beginning, sitting correctly in a chair will come naturally the more it’s worked at, especially if you strengthen your core and buttocks muscles.
  • Chin Poking Out – A poking chin posture may be encouraged by having your computer screen to high or far away, sitting too low, and a general hunched back. Correcting a poking chin involves improving your sitting habits and exercises to correct your posture. In order to fix this posture, bring your shoulder blades down and pull them back towards your spine, gently extend your neck upwards while tucking in your chin, and flex your lower abdominal muscles to keep a slight natural curve to the lower back.  
  • Cradled Phone – Quite often, people who are regularly on the phone will cradle their phone handset between their ear and shoulder so that their hands are free to type or do other things. Such an unnatural position places severe strain on the muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back. If done regularly over time, this can damage the muscles and soft tissue on one side of the neck or back, leading to musculature imbalance between the right and left side of the neck. Ideally, you should hold the phone in your hand, or utilize the speakerphone or a hands-free device in order to eliminate this completely unnecessary strain on your neck.
  • Donald Duck Posture – If your posterior naturally sticks out or you have noticed a distinct inward curvature to your lower back, you may have hyperlordosis. While this tends to cause issues in the lower back, such problems can have chain effects up the spine. If your lower back is straining, the upper back and neck will overcompensate in order to try and fix the issue. Such a problem can be worsened by regularly wearing high heels, pregnancy, or excessive weight in the abdominal region. To correct this standing position, it is essential to strengthen your core and buttocks. On top of that, it is helpful to pretend that there is an imaginary string tied to the top of your cranium that is being pulled in an upward direction.
  • Flat Back Posture – This posture is characterized by a tucked in pelvis and straight lower back, instead of a naturally curving one, which causes the upper spine, shoulders, neck, and head, to lean forward.  Flat back is caused by muscle imbalances and makes it challenging for a person to stand for long periods of time. Exercises meant to strengthen your buttocks, core, rear shoulder muscles, and neck can help fix a flat back.
  • Rounded Shoulders – If your shoulders are rounded, quite often that indicates you have a weak upper back and overly tight chest. A way to see if your shoulders are rounded is to look in a mirror with your arms hanging naturally by the sides. If your knuckles are facing forward, then your shoulder and neck are pulling your arms forward rather than to the side. Balanced exercises should be done to strengthen those weaker back and core muscles.

How to Improve Your Neck Posture

While you may have realized that you have picked up several bad habits that have led to poor neck posture, the good news is you can improve your posture with only a few alterations to your habits as well as ten to fifteen minutes of simple exercises and stretches each day, or alternatively look into treatments like traction for neck pain, which is good for pain reduction.

Daily Stretches

Sternocleidomastoid Stretch – This stretch is intended to lengthen the sternocleidomastoid, the long muscle in the side of the neck that extends up from the thorax to the base of the skull behind the ear. 

  1. Sit or stand with your spine straight and neck in line with the spine as you perform the stretch.
  2. Depress your chest with one hand.
  3. Rotate your head to the opposite side.
  4. Gently hold your head back until you feel a stretch in the front of the neck.
  5. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
  6. Repeat on opposite side of the neck.

Anterior Scalene Stretch – Similar to the last stretch, this stretch is intended to target the Anterior Scalenes.

  1. Sit or stand with your spine straight and neck in line with the spine as you perform the stretch.
  2. Depress your chest with one hand.
  3. Bring the opposite ear to opposite shoulder.
  4. Rotate your head to the same side.
  5. From there, point your chin upwards towards the ceiling.
  6. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
  7. Repeat on the opposite side of the neck.

Suboccipital Stretch – This stretch is done while lying down and is used to stretch the muscles located in the back of the neck, where the base of the skull attaches to the neck.

  1. In a lying position, place a tennis ball beneath one side of the back of the neck.
  2. Tuck in the chin, up and down, as the ball rolls over that muscle.
  3. Continue exercise for 30-60 seconds.
  4. Repeat on opposite side of the neck.

Daily Muscle Exercises

Chin Retractions – Also known as chin tucks, are meant to increase the range of motion and strengthen the muscles in the neck.

  1. This can be done against a wall, or even driving in your car when first learning the exercise, but at home, lie down on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Look at the ceiling and hold your nose perpendicular to that target.
  3. Slowly nod your chin towards your chest, activating the muscles below your chin in the front of your neck and hold the position, giving yourself a double chin.
  4. Return your nose to the vertical alignment.
  5. Repeat exercise at least 10 times.
  6. Perform 2-3 sets.
  7. When this becomes easy, extend the reps to 20 times, or lift your head a centimeter or two off the ground and attempt to perform the exercise.

Shoulder Blade Squeezes - Shoulder blade exercises should pull back your shoulder blades and raise your chest, in order to improve your neck posture.

  1. Sit in a chair with your knees bent at 90-degree angles.
  2. Let go of the shoulders, drop them by your side and let your arms dangle.
  3. Squeeze both shoulder blades together and hold for a few seconds.
  4. Gently release shoulders and return to a relaxed position.
  5. Repeat this exercise 10 - 15 times.
  6. Perform 2-3 sets.

Advanced Cobra – Meant to strengthen your upper back and neck.

  1. Lie down on the floor with your head facing downwards.
  2. Begin with your hands and arms down by your side.
  3. Bring your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
  4. Pinch both of your shoulder blades and gently lift both hands upwards.
  5. Raise your thumbs up and roll in both elbows.
  6. Push forehead upwards while keeping eyes facing the floor and hold that position for a few seconds.
  7. Repeat this exercise 10 times.

Conclusion

By loosening tightened muscles and strengthening weak muscles through daily stretching and exercise, you will see dramatic improvements in your neck posture and reduce symptoms of chronic neck pain. In addition to regular stretching and exercises, it is vital that you are always aware of your neck alignment throughout the day. When sitting or working at the computer, focus on keeping your head neutrally aligned and resting above the shoulders. Promote a neutral spine by reminding yourself to avoid positions, whether sitting or standing, that encourage slouching. By removing bad habits and replacing them with healthy routines, you will quickly see positive changes in your neck posture.

Sources

“Tech Neck’ Taking a Toll on Posture” https://www.columbiaspine.org/tech-neck-taking-a-toll-on-posture/

“The study of correlation between forward head posture and neck pain in Iranian office workers.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26182924

“Correlation between rounded shoulder posture, neck disability indices, and degree of forward head posture.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5088155/