Humans. We're pretty proud of the size of our skulls, and the brains they contain. "The bigger, the better!" we say. And all that species bustin' brain matter really adds up. In weight, if not actual brainpower. On average, the head of an adult human weighs about 10 to 11 pounds (4.5 to 5 kg). That’s a ton (no not an actual ton) of weight for your neck to be holding up any time you’re using your head. And here’s to hoping that is more often than not.
The good news is that your spinal column, and specifically your cervical vertebrae, along with your neck muscles (and ligaments, tendons, etc) are perfectly suited to balance the weight of your head without causing strain. However, that is really only true when your posture allows for the proper alignment of the aforementioned bones, muscles and stuff.
Enter smartphones. And computers. And even an old-fashioned paperback book. The way we interact with our modern society means that, more often than not, we are looking down at something. Now, when I was growing up and the elders in my life told me to sit up straight, I was pretty sure that they didn’t know what they were talking about and that good posture was pretty unnecessary. Sure, it looks nice, and I will get around to that later thank you very much. I just had better things to do.
But here’s the thing, in all my teenage wisdom, I had overlooked the idea that good posture might have an actual purpose. Turns out it does! Imagine that.
When your back is rounded forward, and your shoulders are rolled forward to keep your hands on the keyboard, your head will automatically follow because well, you still need to see. And every inch forward makes a really big difference.
As Erik Dalton writes in the March/April 2015 issue of Massage & Bodywork Magazine, “For every inch the head moves forward from its ideal gravitational center, it feels as if it weighs an [extra] 10 pounds. The concept is the same as holding a 10-pound weight close to the body, then extending the weight straight out in front of you...your brain’s perception of how heavy the weight feels change[s], and so does the amount of effort required... for supporting the weight [of] the head."
That’s 10 pounds of extra weight that your neck muscles weren't planning on carrying! Can you imagine going about your work and all of a sudden your boss is like, “Oh hey can you just hold this 10 pound bowling ball all day, but continue along at the same rate of production? Or get more done, and do it faster while you’re at it? You know what, make that 2 bowling balls."
You’d revolt! (I’d hope you’d revolt). And that’s just what your neck muscles are doing. They’re wielding a revolution. And the tactic at their disposal is that they will hurt, and continue to hurt, until you get rid of the *gd* bowling ball.
So give it a try. Stand firmly, with your feet planted solidly on the ground with the majority of your weight in your heels. Roll your shoulders up, back, and then down, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Engage your lower abdominal muscles and look straight ahead with soft eyes. How does your neck feel?
Now, we know that modern humans are not much unlike teenage me. They all have better things to do. But if you can take a few seconds every hour or so to help reset your posture, it will start to become more and more automatic. In the meantime, our skilled massage therapists are here to help your muscles along the journey. But it can be done. Because if Robin Wright can do it, I can do it too, dammit.