“Stand Up Straight!” Part II – The Neck and Shoulders
Some could argue that good posture of the neck and shoulders is vital to your health. I agree! Most of the processes of life are controlled by the brain. Information then travels down through the spinal cord or through the cranial nerves. Either way, to get to the body it has to go through the neck somewhere. If there is not an efficient path then communication suffers.
As discussed in Part I, the outer part of the ear should line up with the middle of the shoulder. This has become so rare these days that you almost never see it. If you do, often times the only reason it is lined up is because the shoulders sit forward as well. If you go deeper (like on an x-ray) you should see a nice arc with the vertebrae neatly stacked on top of each other. The arc allows for maximum tensile strength and appropriate loading of the discs, ligament and muscles.
The head weighs about as much as a bowling ball so, in order to support the head all day long the neck should be underneath it. Generally, for every degree the head goes forward of the neck, you add an additional 10% more force. This is based on the pull of gravity and angles etc. With the head carrying forward the mechanical advantage of having an arc and the lever the muscles use start to lose ground. Pretty soon ligaments get overstretched and muscles are working much harder. There is also added pressure to the front of the vertebrae and decreased pressure on the back which creates imbalance. Imbalance leads to altered function which leads to altered nervous system flow which leads not only to poor coordination but also improper communication and disease.
Additionally, as the neck goes so go the shoulders. Shoulder injuries are one of the most common injury complaints. With shoulders you already sacrifice stability for mobility so if they are resting at an even less stable location (ie. rounded forward) then wear and tear is bound to happen. Furthermore, slumped shoulders can affect lung capacity and function. The last time I checked, most of us were already bad at breathing properly and I am pretty sure that oxygen is important to the body.
So what to do? First things first, in order to effectively improve posture, you have make sure that all of the joints are moving properly and coordinated together. Adjustments are very effective for this
Second, you have to stabilize the shoulder blades. The best way to do this is to pull the blades down and back while gently lifting the chest. This will stimulate the usually dormant postural muscles of the neck and upper back and relax the muscle that are carrying most of the work but shouldn’t.
Third, getting back the curve in the neck is tricky but important. I use what is referred to as a traction wedge my office. It is not very comfortable but allowing the head to hang over and edge with a tension band is effective in reshaping the neck.
Obviously, this is a process. It is usually not that effective to just try and stand up straighter. Nevertheless, with effort, results can be visible in less than a few weeks and long lasting results in less than 3 months.
Stay tuned for Part III where we discuss posture of the low back!