Characteristics of good posture include a normal cervical, thoracic and lumbar curve. From the side, the shoulders should fall directly over the hips, and the ears should fall directly over the shoulders. The shoulder blades should be lowered and relaxed. In this position, our bodies are made to work most efficiently and expend the least amount of energy during our everyday tasks. We should try to maintain good posture for our back and neck in all the positions that we find ourselves in throughout the day, including: sleeping, sitting, driving, working at the computer, cooking, lifting, etc.
Poor posture can lead to cervical (neck) pain. In the neck, there are a group of muscles called deep cervical flexors that are attached directly to the front part of the spine. Their action is to stabilize the cervical vertebrae, maintain the ideal curve of the neck, and to nod the cranium (head) down. These work best when the head and neck are maintained in proper alignment. When our posture deviates from ideal positioning, the deep cervical flexors can no longer do their job. As their strength and endurance diminish, it becomes harder to hold the correct posture. More superficial cervical muscles, those that are more visible and easily felt from the front of the neck, are recruited. Relying on these muscles result in creating the more abnormal posture of forward-head and rounded shoulders. Without correction, this will lead to a cascade of problems, including muscle spasm, arthritis, nerve impingement, and headaches.
Studies show that strengthening deep cervical flexors can increase muscle bulk and decrease chronic neck pain. Strengthening deep cervical flexors is also linked to improvement of function.
Deep cervical flexor exercise:
Lay down on your back with your knees and hips bent. Try to tuck your shoulder blades down and back in a relaxed position. Lengthen the back of your neck as you nod your chin down. You should feel as though you are using muscles in the back of your throat. With your fingers, gently feel the front of your neck. The superficial muscles in the front of your neck should remain relaxed. Do not lift your head off the bed. Instead have your head remain in contact with the bed as you gently tuck your chin down.
For some people, it may be difficult to lay flat on the ground because muscles have adaptively shortened, making it impossible to lay flat without feeling a choking feeling or having the head tilt too far back. In some cases, this may be the first time that the muscles in the back of the neck have been stretched and a headache can ensue. If this is the case, place one or more folded towels under the head to make the head level with the ground or slightly tilted forward.
As one repeats this exercise over time, it will become easier to lay flatter. The deep cervical muscles will get bigger, stronger and improve endurance. They will gain the strength needed to hold the head up when seated, while allowing the more superficial muscles to remain relaxed.