You see it on a daily basis: People hunched over their phones or tablets, staring into the screens. You may even notice that you yourself get into that awkward, forward-leaning position. As you’re doing it, your head, neck and shoulders are slumped forward, contorted into an unhealthy position known as the “iHunch” or “text neck.”

Sound familiar?

The formal name for it is forward head posture—and it’s an unhealthy position to put your body into. The reason it’s unhealthy is that it puts incredible stress on your neck and spine. The human head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. The neck and spine are built to carry that weight when you’re standing or sitting up straight.

However, when you lean forward, gravity comes into play, and the neck and spine must bear a more significant load. By leaning forward 15 degrees, the head feels equal to a 27-pound weight on your neck and spine. At a 45-degree tilt, it feels more like a 49-pound weight. At 60 degrees, the human head puts a strain on your neck and spine equal to 60 pounds!

Imagine walking around with a 60-pound weight hanging off of your neck. That’s ridiculous. Yet, that’s what we’re asking our neck and spine to support when we slump our neck forward in that all-too-common posture.

Combine that 60-pound weight with the fact that the average American spends 5 hours per day on their smartphone, and you start to understand the scope of the forward head posture problem. And unfortunately, the smaller the device―hello, smart watches!―the worse the posture, because we have to adjust the head and neck position further forward to see them properly.

What are symptoms of forward head posture?

Forward head posture can lead to numbness and tingling in the hands and arms, chronic pain, strained breathing or pinched nerves.

Physical problems from forward head posture include:

  1. Headaches
  2. Pain
  3. Spinal misalignment
  4. Immune dysfunction
  5. Chronic fatigue
  6. Disc compression
  7. Altered blood flow
  8. Decreased lung capacity

Forward head posture can affect you on a number of levels, not just physically. Research indicates that this unhealthy neck and spine position is associated with problems including:

  1. Mood
  2. Brain function
  3. Memory
  4. Behavior
  5. Feelings of stress

What causes forward head posture?

While it’s tempting to say that our technological advancements, including smartphones, computers and tablets, are the only cause of “tech neck,” there are other factors. Your neck and shoulder position changes throughout the day according to specific activities and exercises you perform.

However, smartphones and similar devices now play such a prominent role in our lives that our heads and necks are often in the same fixed position for hours at a time.

Here are 4 leading causes of forward head posture:

  1. Phone and computer use. There’s a reason this condition is nicknamed “text neck” or “tech neck.” And while the condition affects adults in large numbers, younger patients who have used handheld devices including video games, e-readers and cell phones since childhood can also suffer from abnormal cervical neck curvature and degenerative bone conditions from the large amount of time they spend on handheld screens.
  2. Video gaming. Playing video games for hours each day has a lasting impact on our bodies. Especially when we are hunched over the controller and playing in a seated position where we don’t move much. That positioning of your neck and shoulders for hours at a time can cause severe pain and forward head posture symptoms.
  3. Heavy backpacks and shoulder bags. If you’re carrying a heavy weight on your back, it places a load on the spine and shoulders. The body compensates by extending the neck and shoulders forward to counterbalance the weight. Students suffer consequences from carrying heavy backpacks. Adults who carry similarly heavy loads regularly are also at risk.
  4. Driving a vehicle. Spending too much time behind the wheel can cause you to crane your neck forward into an unhealthy position. When you add up the daily time spent driving over weeks, months and years, it can be one of the causes of chronic neck and shoulder pain.

While it may seem like correcting forward head posture is in conflict with everything we do in modern life, there are multiple ways to correct this postural issue and avoid the problems it can cause. These methods include chiropractic care, posture exercises and lifestyle changes.

In our next post, we’ll discuss ways to improve your posture and check yourself before you wreck your neck and shoulders.