Anterior head syndrome: a growing epidemic
Have you ever walked into a grocery store and noticed an older person leaning forward with a “granny” hump on their neck? Or maybe a colleague who works day and night staring at a computer screen, head tilted forward? Maybe it’s a couple who like to watch TV or read every day, only to lie on their back and put two or three pillows under their heads. What about people who drive a lot, with their head sticking forward from the headrest (“windshield posture error”)? Perhaps even a young mother, or worse yet, children who constantly look down at tablets, computers, Ipads, Ipods (me, anything), mobile phones and screens, who are starting to show signs of the above head syndrome.
What is anterior head syndrome (AHS)? African horse sickness is an acquired primary structural spinal condition that is a growing epidemic, often due to trauma and lifestyle choices. Various activities can mold the head and cervical spine (neck) into a more forward position. These effects are devastating to health. According to Joint Physiology, Volume 3, “For every inch of forward head posture, you can increase the weight of your head on your spine by an additional 10 pounds.” An adult’s head weighs between 12 and 15 pounds, and you can only imagine the added strain on your neck muscles and discs if AHS is not addressed. It’s no wonder why people can feel fatigue and pain in the neck, shoulders, and back after a long day at work. Like putting your hand in wet cement, it can mold to your handprint as it dries. The spine does the same with the abnormal posture of the spine.
What can happen if I don’t correct AHS? Secondary conditions of abnormal spinal structure in the neck may include the following: arthritis, arm pain, back pain, bone spurs, carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical stenosis, decreased grip strength, degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis), herniated discs, dizziness, widow’s hump (“granny’s hump”), fatigue, fibromyalgia, golfer’s or tennis elbow, headaches, hearing difficulties, jaw pain (TMJ), neck pain, and Muscle spasms, numbness and tingling in the arms and hands, rotator cuff problems, shoulder pain, sinus conditions, vision problems, and wrist pain. According to the prestigious magazine SpineForward head posture has been shown to flatten the normal curve of the neck, resulting in disc compression, disc damage, and early arthritis, even in people with no symptoms. Of the many people who do not have AHS symptoms, permanent spinal damage can occur if not treated with corrective spinal care.
How the neck should look: The cervical spine should have a nice arc when looking to the side of the body, with the inner ear flap (tragus) in a direct line over the shoulder (acromion). From the front view, the head should be perfectly aligned on the chest. Research according to Nobel Prize winner Dr. Alf Breig, who was once a prominent neurosurgeon, showed that “loss of the cervical curve stretches the spinal cord 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) and causes disease.” In my practice, after a thorough examination and radiographic analysis, I routinely see patients with 1 to 4-inch anterior head syndrome. That extra force in the spine is attributed to 10-40 pounds of extra head weight on the neck and torso muscles. Spinal cord lengthening of 2 to 3 inches, combined with 10 to 40 pounds of additional weight on the cervical spine can contribute to a host of neurological conditions over time. AHS can occur through years of improper biomechanics and bad neck habits, or an instant whiplash. It doesn’t happen in a day or two after looking down on your smartphone. Problems begin to arise over the years of abnormal wear patterns on the spine (much like a tire turning along a bent axle; the tread will wear unevenly).
What to do with AHS: Whether your goal is to reduce arthritis and pain, help with sinus problems and headaches, or reduce the “granny hump” in your upper back, there are a few ways to help improve AHS. After a series of radiographs, we use a specific protocol designed individually for each patient. We use specialized spinal restoration equipment to gently and slowly mold the neck closer to its normal position. We also use specific therapeutic and chiropractic spinal adjustment exercises that are safe and beneficial, by increasing cervical mobility. In addition, modified changes will be implemented in your daily lifestyle, by identifying bad habits that cause AHS, including AHS-specific exercises, changing driving position, updated sitting and sleeping positions, improving biomechanics when exercising and others. . Keep in mind; no “magic pill or potion” will help restore proper neck curve.
How do I find the right doctor for me? Traditional physicians, physical therapists, massage therapists, and I even dare to write, many physicians who share my own profession of chiropractic, do little to show evidence of improving AHS. For best results, find a provider or chiropractor who specializes in chiropractic biophysics, or who can show you evidence of spinal change in addition to simply helping you feel better. Like working with a trainer, achieving the best results for your body in the gym is no different. It takes a strong desire for improvement and extra work on your own time to get the best results. When training in the gym, you may notice results slowly, and after a period of time, even better results! AHS correction is no different.
Working with a chiropractor who focuses on spinal correction along with making simple changes to your home and work routines will pay huge dividends on the health of your spine.