What do headaches, shortness of breath and a slow gastro intestinal system have in common?
They could all be symptoms of a forward head posture (FHP).
I know: sounds a little far fetched, right?
As a rider: here is the really important part: a forward head posture could be intimately tied in with your back soreness, your inability to sit the trot and your growing feeling of not being ‘with’ your horse when he/she spooks.
But if it’s so important why don’t more people talk about it?
You know all those times when
…your instructor tells you to put your shoulders back?
…it feels like your back is totally unsteady at the trot?
…your shoulders hurt when you lift the saddle onto your horse?
…you have that undefined feeling of just not being in synch with your horse?
…you forget to breathe on your horse?
In other words: FHP is the ‘silent killer’ of your seat.
Forward head posture changes EVERYTHING about how your spine can move…and therefor absorb movement but also direct movement.
“For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3. In fact
Rene Cailliet M.D., former director of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Southern California, suggests that FHP can add as much as thirty pounds of abnormal leverage on the cervical spine and by doing that is likely to pull the entire spine out of alignment.
Our spine (skeletal system) has the very important job of balancing the brain inside our skull (i.e. head) upright against the forces of gravity. The entire spine will compensate and make adjustments to ensure that the brain remains upright!
As we are on the ground, so we are once we get on the horse. That goes for our alignment as well. A FHP forces the rest of the body to adjust and we are never in the right vertical alignment. It’s impossible.
And here are two rather scary side effects of FHP:
FHP can result in the loss of 30% of vital lung capacity. (FHP can inhibit the action of the inferior hyoid, which is responsible for helping lift the first rib during inhalation.)
“The entire gastrointestinal system (particularly the large intestine) may become agitated from FHP resulting in sluggish bowel peristaltic function and evacuation.” Eric Dalton
So why are we not paying more attention? I mean, after all, riders are acutely aware that their horse’s head position is instrumental in the alignment and function of the rest of the horse’s body…so why do we completely ignore the importance of our own head and neck position?
The truth is that we live in a sedentary society and forward head posture is quickly turning into a disease of the 21st century.
I think partly because it has ‘snuck in’ so steadily and slowly that we have barely had time to lift our head to notice (no pun intended).
And also, because almost EVERYONE has some degree of FHP so we no longer notice it in other nor ourselves.
WARNING: Before you start focusing on ‘keeping your head back’ when you ride consider that everything in the body is interconnected. Dynamically and functionally. By the time we have FHP the rest of our body has already compensated in other places. And it is also possible that the FHP is a by product of some other misalignment and dysfunction.
Always keep in mind: nothing in the body happens in a vacuum. So treating it in a vacuum is rather futile (one might use stronger words here…). The key is always to take the entire structure into account, get to the root cause and restore proper movement (in order to restore proper form).
P.S. I just did a short video chat about this in our Facebook group Become the Balanced, Supple and Confident Rider You Want to Be? Are you a member? If not: click here to join.
P.S.S. Realizing you have a forward head position and recognize some of these ‘symptoms’ and want a game plan on what to do to get back to ‘neutral’- here is the link to schedule a call