Why You Should Learn to Float Your Head
Dr. Edythe Heus
December 25, 2023

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and so is the head that is misaligned. Literally.

In a neutral position, the head exerts 10-12 lbs of stress on the spine. This weight dramatically increases as the head is tilted forward. The cervical spine receives 27 lbs of pressure at 15°, 40 lbs at 30°, 49 lbs at 45°, and 60 lbs at 60°.

This misalignment not only strains the muscles and bones supporting the head but also impairs balance, breathing, mobility, and much more.

Unfortunately, more and more people are developing this forward head posture (FHP). The culprit? Spending hours hunched over phones or computers.

So, how can you correct FHP and adopt a healthier head position? With one simple maneuver: floating your head.

It’s the fourth of the six Rev6 Essentials, the building blocks of better posture and movement. Let me teach you how to float your head and explain why it is crucial for your health and performance.

Anatomy of the Neck

To better understand the mechanics and importance of floating your head, we need to talk about the anatomy of the neck first.

The neck is supported by the cervical region of the spine, which consists of seven stacked vertebrae and six intervertebral discs.

The first two vertebrae have a unique structure and function. The first one (C1) is also called atlas. Just like Atlas in Greek mythology carried the heavens on his shoulders, the atlas of the spine holds the head upright. Meanwhile, the second one is called the axis, as it allows the atlas to rotate from side to side.

The neck’s foremost function is to bridge the head with the rest of the body. Alongside that, it also contains many organs, tissues, and nerves that are vital for the body to function. Within or passing through the neck are the:

  • spinal cord, which facilitates sensory and motor control;
  • jugular veins and carotid arteries, which supply and drain blood to and from the brain;
  • cranial nerves, among them are the vagus nerves, which can affect digestion, heart rate, respiration, swallowing, sneezing, coughing, nausea, and vomiting;
  • esophagus, which transports food to the stomach and prevents acid reflux; and
  • larynx, which is essential for swallowing, breathing, and speaking.

The Importance of Floating Your Head to Your Health and Athleticism

Ideally, your head should sit directly on your body’s vertical midline. When viewed from the side, your ear should line up with your shoulder, your shoulder with your hip, and your hip with your ankle. When viewed from the front, your nose should be straight and your eyes level.

Maintaining this position brings a slew of benefits and prevents health problems from cropping up. Here are some of the most important consequences of good head posture:

Improved Proprioception and Balance

Balance is dependent on input from various systems—the visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive. Information from these systems needs to be integrated at the same time to orient ourselves about our position in space and balance ourselves.

Good head posture is crucial to making sure these systems work optimally. Our head contains two out of three (visual and vestibular). In addition, it rests atop our cervical spine, which contains the most proprioceptors (sensory neurons) of any spinal region.

Many studies attest to the importance of head posture in balance and proprioception. Research reveals that heavy computer and smartphone use, primary causes of FHP, leads to decreased:

● balance ability,

● postural control, and

● cervical proprioception.

Greater Range of Motion

FHP compresses our facet joints and vertebral bodies, the connective and weight-bearing parts of the spinal column, respectively. In addition, the fascia of the neck, with its connection to the spine, shoulder girdle, head, and lower abdominals compromises spinal mechanics (among other things) making the following movements more difficult:

● flexion (bending forward)

● extension (bending backward)

● rotation (turning side to side)

● lateral bending (tilting or leaning sideways)

Studies show that the greater the angle at which our heads are tilted forward, the less mobility our necks (and the rest of our body) have in all planes of movement. Thus, the more we can keep our heads in a neutral position, the more we can move our necks freely.

Better Mood

When we feel down, our instinct is to orient our body posture downwards. However, we should do our best to combat this tendency. Various studies show that FHP amplifies feelings of defeat, helplessness, and hopelessness. Research also observed that a stooped body position makes it much harder to evoke positive thoughts.

Instead, we should aim to keep an upright posture, as they help reduce negative feelings in the face of stress. This effect was observed in a randomized trial where participants were assigned to either sit slumped or upright after a psychological stress task. Those who were upright reported better mood and self-esteem and less fear than those who were slumped.

Reduced Headaches

If you suffer from headaches, keeping your head in an upright position may be the best way for you to reduce their recurrence.

As earlier established, FHP increases the load on the neck. This added stress impinges on the muscles, fascia, and nerves of the neck and shoulders. Persistent tension in these body parts can lead to tension headaches. Thus, a reduction in FHP helps relieve these headaches.

Primary headaches (ones that are not symptoms of underlying problems) are also strongly correlated with FHP. A meta-analysis found that patients with chronic primary headaches have greater FHP than those with episodic primary headaches and asymptomatic individuals.

Increased Vital Capacity

Aside from disturbing the muscles around the neck and shoulders, FHP also weakens respiratory muscles. These include the scalene muscles and pectoralis major, which assist with breathing in.

In addition, FHP causes our shoulders to round and the chest to contract. These changes restrict our ability to breathe more air in, as that requires the expansion of the ribcage. Both of these factors contribute to decreased respiratory function.

Injury Prevention

Improper positioning of the head not only causes wear and tear on the neck but also on the rest of the spine and the body.

As FHP alters the body’s center of gravity, other body parts will compensate so that the body still feels balanced. These changes lead to more abnormalities in the thoracic spine, pelvis, and lower back.

FHP also compromises the brain stem, spinal cord, jugular vein, carotid artery, and vagus nerve, which, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, all pass through the neck.

Thus, the importance of floating your head to your functioning cannot be overstated.

How to Float Your Head

Now that you’re convinced that floating your head is good for you, let’s discuss how exactly you should do it.

Floating your head is as easy as directing the top of your head toward the ceiling. The tricky part is finding where the top of your head is. Here’s an easy way to do so:

1. Put your thumb between your eyebrows.

2. Let the rest of your fingers follow the contour of your skull.

3. Where your middle finger rests is the point that should be directed up to the ceiling.

As you float your head, observe your torso lifting and your lower abs hollowing. These essentials are intimately connected. They heighten each other to make your movement even more efficient.

It will take time for you to become accustomed to floating your head, especially if you’ve developed FHP. But with constant vigilance and practice with Rev6, floating your head will become as automatic as breathing in and out.

If you’re brand new to Rev6, make sure to try out our foundations class for free! And if you want specific exercises to free your neck, check out this workout bundle!

Sources:

Alshahrani, A., Abdrabo, M. S., Asiri, F. Y., & Aly, S. (2018). Impact of smartphone usage on cervical proprioception and balance in healthy adults. Biomedical Research 29(12): 2547-2552. https://doi.org/10.4066/biomedicalresearch.29-18-594

Elizagaray-Garcia, I., Beltran-Alacreu, H., Angulo-Díaz, S., Garrigós-Pedrón, M., & Gil-Martínez, A. (2020). Chronic Primary Headache Subjects Have Greater Forward Head Posture than Asymptomatic and Episodic Primary Headache Sufferers: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.), 21(10), 2465–2480. https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnaa235

Fernández-de-las-Peñas, C., Alonso-Blanco, C., Cuadrado, M. L., & Pareja, J. A. (2006). Forward head posture and neck mobility in chronic tension-type headache: a blinded, controlled study. Cephalalgia : an international journal of headache, 26(3), 314–319. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2982.2005.01042.x

Han, J., Park, S., Kim, Y., Choi, Y., & Lyu, H. (2016). Effects of forward head posture on forced vital capacity and respiratory muscles activity. Journal of physical therapy science, 28(1), 128–131. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.128

Hansraj K. K. (2014). Assessment of stresses in the cervical spine caused by posture and position of the head. Surgical technology international, 25, 277–279.

Kang, J.-H., Park, R.-Y., Lee, S.-J., Kim, J.-Y., Yoon, S.-R., & Jung, K.-I. (2012). The Effect of The Forward Head Posture on Postural Balance in Long Time Computer Based Worker. Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, 36(1), 98. https://doi.org/10.5535/arm.2012.36.1.98

Koseki, T., Kakizaki, F., Hayashi, S., Nishida, N., & Itoh, M. (2019). Effect of forward head posture on thoracic shape and respiratory function. Journal of physical therapy science, 31(1), 63–68. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.31.63

Lee J. H. (2016). Effects of forward head posture on static and dynamic balance control. Journal of physical therapy science, 28(1), 274–277. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.274

Lee, E., & Lee, S. (2019). Impact of Cervical Sensory Feedback for Forward Head Posture on Headache Severity and Physiological Factors in Patients with Tension-type Headache: A Randomized, Single-Blind, Controlled Trial. Medical science monitor : international medical journal of experimental and clinical research, 25, 9572–9584. https://doi.org/10.12659/MSM.918595

Lin, G., Zhao, X., Wang, W., & Wilkinson, T. (2022). The relationship between forward head posture, postural control and gait: A systematic review. Gait & posture, 98, 316–329. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gaitpost.2022.10.008

Mahmoud, N. F., Hassan, K. A., Abdelmajeed, S. F., Moustafa, I. M., & Silva, A. G. (2019). The Relationship Between Forward Head Posture and Neck Pain: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 12(4), 562–577. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12178-019-09594-y

Nair, S., Sagar, M., Sollers, J., 3rd, Consedine, N., & Broadbent, E. (2015). Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 34(6), 632–641. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000146

Tsai, H. Y., Peper, E., & Lin, I. (2016). EEG patterns under positive/negative body postures and emotion recall tasks. NeuroRegulation 3(1):23-27. https://doi.org/10.15540/nr.3.1.23

Veenstra, L., Schneider, I. K., & Koole, S. L. (2017). Embodied mood regulation: the impact of body posture on mood recovery, negative thoughts, and mood-congruent recall. Cognition & emotion, 31(7), 1361–1376. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2016.1225003

Quek, J., Pua, Y. H., Clark, R. A., & Bryant, A. L. (2013). Effects of thoracic kyphosis and forward head posture on cervical range of motion in older adults. Manual therapy, 18(1), 65–71. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.math.2012.07.005