Why is this so? Well, the simple answer is that our necks are vulnerable to injury. Heads are really quite heavy and they are balanced via the neck on our shoulders rather like a big flower on the top of a stem. That’s why sudden violent movements like the so-called whiplash injury in a car crash strain neck muscles severely. But far more often we hurt ourselves by awkward head positioning.
But these are relatively rare situations for most people and wouldn’t account for the prevalence of neck pain. No, the real problem is the much more common head forward posture. Here, the delicate balance of the head on the shoulders is broken, and muscles, especially those at the back of the neck, have to work hard against the downward pull of gravity.
The renowned therapist Erik Dalton uses the term “the 42 pound head” to describe the increase in apparent weight of the head as it migrates forward on the shoulders. For every inch that the head is held forward of the anatomically “correct” position the weight of the head as perceived by the muscles supporting it increases by 12 pounds. Dalton notes that the effects of this deviation on the body are profound and in many cases deeply damaging.
Bodywork can relieve pain associated with head forward posture by easing tight, sore muscles but if that’s all we do, the problem will recur. Next time we’ll look at the much tougher job of restoring good head position to stop neck pain.