Our head is the center and peak of our body. When the head and neck are out of alignment, the weight of our head increases the load on our neck by 10 pounds per every inch that our head is forward. As our culture continues to become tech focused, the root of neck pain and jaw pain are due to our misaligned necks and forward heads.
Our neck is made up of the top part of our spine: the cervical spine. The cervical spine is a slightly concave curve that develops during the first three months of life as infants learn to lift and turn their head. The curve of our neck allows for enhanced mobility of our head. This is why we can turn our head to see something without rotating or turning our spine and shoulders.
Throughout the past 20 years our culture’s behavior has changed. We no longer turn our head to look for cars behind us while driving because our rear cameras alert us when someone is there. Work days have shifted to being predominantly at the computer. The average time an adult spends on their phone is more than three hours per day. The decrease in movement of our neck and increased forward head has led to a loss of the concave cervical curve. Without the cervical curve of our neck to support our head, our skeletal system shifts and leads to increased tension in the muscles that connect our neck to our shoulders and jaw misalignment.
Within the past few years at our practice, we have seen this increase in clients presenting with neck pain and temporomandibular joints (TMJ) pain. As the head becomes more flexed forward, the joints that connect our jaw to our head begin to shift in response to the misaligned spine of our neck. The misaligned jaw often is identified by “clicking” or pain from overuse of chewing/talking in a misaligned joint positioning. Often clients with forward head positioning and jaw misalignment present with headaches in conjugation to neck pain and TMJ pain. Forward head positioning leads to decreased blood flow to the brain from poor alignment. It might sound unusual that headaches and jaw pain are connected to your alignment, but as the head shifts forward the cervical spine becomes more flexed, decreasing blood flow to the brain, enhancing strain on the muscles around the neck, and often creating shifts within the jaw.
At our practice, we treat the misalignment of the head positioning that creates TMJ pain and neck pain by addressing the body as a unit. We focus to align the body vertically and reduce the flexion of the neck. One example of this would be aligning the body against a wall and placing a block between the knees with active pressure. This position allows the feedback of the wall against the head, shoulders, hips, and ankles. When holding this positioning daily, the muscles of the neck and shoulders begin to relax and have reduced tension and muscular compensation. Overtime, we are able to see a reduction in the flexed position of the head, correct curvature within the spine, and the jaw becomes more aligned.
Our goal during a postural alignment therapy evaluation is to identify what is driving the forward head position and jaw misalignment. Through a complete health assessment, functional testing, and gait analysis we can begin to understand the muscular imbalances in a client’s body. This will allow us to identify the muscles that need to be strengthened or released to bring the body into alignment. We do this through corrective exercises that will be done daily at home in the order to address the misaligned neck, forward shoulders, and jaw positioning. Once the body is aligned and the forward head position and shoulders are less rounded, the pain will subside and our clients are able to live a functional pain free life.