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Neck Pain and Posture

Neck Pain and Posture

Neck musclesNeck posture and movement occurs through an interplay between muscle, nerves, and the brain. As neck pain develops there appears to be a reduction in our ability to properly place and correct head and neck posture towards a more neutral and therefore balanced position.

The neck can be seen as the most flexible part of the spine. It has the responsibility of supporting the weight and movement of the head, while also interacting with the Thoracic Spine (Upper Back) and the Shoulder Girdle. When the posture or integrity of the neck is compromised, it is easily susceptible to strain, tension, and fatigue. While this may not be an issue in the short-term, long-term exposure to poor head and neck posture can often lead to headaches, neck strain, and even degeneration of the bones, discs, and joints.

How can my Posture affect Neck Pain

Often tension and pain found at the back of the neck can be associated with Forward Head Posture and an increase of the curving forward of the upper back (Thoracic Kyphosis). “Abnormalities in head posture are often considered to be associated with the development and persistence of neck pain” (Silva et al., 2009, p.669).

Forward head postureAs the head moves forward, the muscles of the front of the neck have the tendency of over stretching and lengthening while the muscles of the back of the neck, shoulder, and upper back tend to shorten excessively. This can create a neck pain cycle that may be difficult to resolve without the assistance of a qualified health care provider.

There is evidence that as we age (over 50 years of age) our head will tend to rest in a more forward position. While this may not always lead to pain in the neck, the prolonged forward head resting position may lead to an increased chance of this pain occurring.


Head and Neck Pain while sitting at a desk

Research in the Journal SPINE, highlighted that “the sitting position has been identified as a risk factor for the development and increased frequency and severity of neck pain” (Horton et al, 2010) An article in the Journal MANUAL THERAPY goes on to say that the “prevalence of neck and shoulder girdle pain in office workers using computers may be as high as 31%”.

Sitting IncorrectlySzeto et al, 2002, describe the common characteristics that can be found in office workers include a combination of:

  • Flexion or forward bending of the lower part of the neck;
  • Tilting of the head upwards and forward;
  • Rounding of the shoulders, with the shoulder blades moving outwards towards the sides;

Improved Sitting Posture

By improving sitting posture you are able to have a direct positive effect along the length of the spine, which will in turn have a positive effect on head and neck posture. Research conducted by the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen’s University, Canada, found that correcting forward head sitting posture lead to a direct easing of muscle activity at the neck. This will in turn ease the pressure and strain throughout the back, neck and shoulders, reducing the incidence of neck pain.


Dolan, K.J., & Green, A. (2006). Lumbar spine repositioning sense: The effect of a ‘slouched’ posture. Manual Therapy. 11(2006) 202-207.

Edmondston, S.J., Chan, H.Y., Ngai, G.C.W., Warren, M.L.R., Williams, J.M., Glennon, S., & Netto, K. Postural neck pain: An investigation of habitual sitting posture, perception of ‘good’ posture and cervicothoracic kinaesthesia . Manual Therapy. 12(2007) 363-371.

Horton, S.J., Johnson, G.M., & Skinner, M.A. Changes in head and neck posture using an office chair with and without lumbar roll support. Spine. 35(12), 20 May 2010, 542-548.

Kendall, F.P., McCreary, E.K., & Provanc, P.G. (1993). Muscles, testing and function (4th ed). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

McLean, L. The effect of postural correction on muscle activation amplitudes recorded from the cervicobrachial region. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 15 (2005) 527–535.

Silva, A.G., Punt, T.D., Sharples, P., Vilas-Boas, J.P., & Johnson, M.I. Head posture and neck pain of chronic nontraumatic origin: A comparison between patients and pain-free persons. Archive Physical Medicine Rehabilitation. Volume 90, April 2009, 669-674.

Szeto, G.P.Y., Strakerb, L., & Raine, S. A field comparison of neck and shoulder postures in symptomatic and asymptomatic office workers. Applied Ergonomics. 33 (2002) 75–84.