THE BLOG

Where's Your Head At? A Major Cause of Back Pain

04/09/2015 11:16 BST | Updated 03/09/2016 10:59 BST

There's a preoccupation with the relationship between the head and neck/spine in the Alexander Technique, and for good reason, your head is heavy, really heavy! The head can weigh up to 11lbs or 5Kg, think 5 bags of sugar or a bowling ball. It's not something you want to be holding up with the muscles of your neck, upper back and shoulders. Thankfully you don't need to if it's balanced on top of your spine well, thinking of your neck as part of your spine as a whole rather than a separate entity. But for every inch you poke your head forward, it creates a further heads weight of pressure on your spine and supporting muscles to keep your head aloft. So it only takes two inches as you stare at your phone to generate a further 10Kg of pressure on your spine, not something I'd recommend doing for long, far better to bring your phone to you with your arms, instead of going to it with your head.

The head balances on the spine much higher up than many people realise, if you point your fingers right below your earlobes, in line with the bottom of the nose, that's the axis around which the head articulates with the spine to allow it to nod forward and back. Shaking the head from side to side happens between the first two vertebra so could be said to be a spine movement rather than a head movement.

improving posture with alexander technique

                          Image used with permission from Victoria Stanham.

As it happens, there's slightly more of your head (including the lower jaw) in front of the atlas joint (where the skull meets the spine) than behind it, so gravity will naturally cause the head to roll forward so that your nose bobs downwards, as long as you are not tensing your neck muscles. This is great as it also means that with the head rolling forward the muscles of your neck and back will be gently lengthened if you allow them to let go. Don't worry, your head wont fall off, you don't need to hold it there in place. So instead of fighting gravity, let it help you. As water is to fish, gravity is to us. One thing to remember though is that although it's great to let your head roll forward, you don't want to allow your neck to poke forward too, your neck wants to stay back as a lengthening integrated part of the whole spine.

It's interesting that many osteopaths, chiropractors and physios talk about the "head forward syndrome/posture" when in reality it is the neck that is going forward whilst the head would be going back and down. To counteract this Alexander famously reminded himself with the phrase "head forward and up" as a prevention to pulling his head back and down.

Now, in reality , you may not actually spend all your time in this neutral position, or home, as I like to think of it. You are free to look up and around, and move your neck and spine this way and that, but the question is, can you freely return home, and do you kinaesthetically even know where it is? If you don't, you're lost! This is something that the Alexander Technique really helps with, it fine tunes your awareness of yourself and your orientation to the space around you. But it's not just where your head is physically, put also mentally, but more on that in my next blog ...

This blog was originally posted here.

The Alexander Technique has been clinically proven for back pain via an NHS funded, gold standard randomised trial. It was performed by Southampton University and their results were published in the British Medical Journal.

It is also endorsed by Backcare.org.uk, a lottery funded organisation.

World wide resource for the Society of Teachers of The Alexander Technique: www.stat.org.uk