How to fix Forward Head Posture (Nerd Neck)

What is Forward Head Posture?

Forward Head Posture (aka Nerd neck, Tech Neck) is where the position of the head is in front of the mid line of the torso.

(Ideally – the ear canal should be aligned with the mid line of the torso.)

forward head posture

It involves a combination of lower neck flexion and upper neck extension.

There is also a flattening or loss of the natural curve in the cervical spine.

Disclaimer: The content presented on this blog post is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. It exists for informational purpose only. Use of the content is at your sole risk. For more information: Medical disclaimer.


What causes Forward head posture?

It’s all about your habits.

Think about how you sit:

Are you sitting up tall?…. Or are you letting your head poke forward? 

The body will get used to the positions that you choose to place it in.

Over time – certain muscles will tend to weaken and others get tight.

This can eventuate into a Forward Head Posture.

What muscles are involved?

(Note: If you are not sure where the following muscles are located, feel free to look them up on Google!)

a) Overactive and/or Tight muscles:

  • Anterior Scalene
  • Sternocleidomastoid
  • Sub-Occipital muscles
  • Splenius Capitis/Cervicis
  • Semispinalis
  • Longissimus
  • Anterior trapezius

b) What muscles are weak in Forward Head Posture?

Deep Neck Flexors:

  • Longus Capitis
  • Longus Colli

Lower Cervical Extensors:

  • Multifidus

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How to tell if you have Forward head posture

a) Wall test

How do you know if you have Forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Place your back completely flat against the wall.
    • Make sure your pelvis and shoulder blades are in contact with the wall.
    • Do not over arch your lower back.
    • The back of your heels do not have to be touching the wall.
  • Do not tilt your head backwards.
  • Whilst standing in this position, does the back of your head naturally come in contact with the wall? 

Results: If the back of your head does not naturally come into contact with the wall, then you likely have a Forward Head Posture.


b) Side profile

test for nerd neck

  • Take a side profile photo of yourself.
  • Draw a line down the mid line of your torso.
  • Draw a line down from your ear canal.
    • This line should be parallel to the mid line of the torso.

Results: If the line from the ear canal is in front of the line of the torso, then you likely have a Forward Head Posture.


What is the consequence of a Forward Head Posture?

Symptoms may include:

Forward Head Posture Exercises

Recommendation: Perform the following exercises 2-3/week to gain a sense of what each exercise feels like.
Over time –  see how your body responds and adjust frequency accordingly.


1. Neck releases

The tight muscles that are holding your head in the forward position will need to be released first.

a) Sub-Occipital/Posterior Neck

sub occipital release

Instructions:

  • Place a massage ball under the back of your neck.
    • Do not place it directly under the spine.
    • You are aiming for the muscles on either side of the spine.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of pressure onto the massage ball.
  • Gently rotate your head from side to side to emphasize certain areas.
  • Make sure to cover the muscle from the base of the skull to the base of the neck.
  • Continue for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Alternatively: If you do not have a massage ball, you can use your fingers to apply pressure to the same areas.

Note: If you start to feel dizziness or experience more pain, reduce the amount of pressure that you are applying.

b) Sternocleidomastoid

scm release for forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Locate the Sternocleidomastoid muscle.
    • (Use Google if you are not sure where it is.)
  • You should be able to feel a prominent band of muscle on each side of the neck. (see above)
  • Do not to press too deep as you may hit other sensitive structures of the neck.
  • Gently massage these muscles with a pinch grip.
  • Make sure to cover the entire length of the muscle.
  • Duration: 1 minute per side.

(For more stretches like this, see post: Sternocleidomastoid Stretches.)

c) Side of neck release

Instructions:

  • Place the flat part of your fist at the bottom of the side of your neck.
  • Make sure that you are not pressing onto the structures at the front of the neck.
  • Apply a gentle sliding pressure up towards behind the ear region.
  • Repeat 5 upwards strokes on either side of the neck.

2. Neck stretches

Stretching out the tight muscles will give the opportunity for the head to adopt the correct posture.

a) Sub-Occipital (Upper neck)

stretches for forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Place your hand at the front of your chin and the other at the back of your head.
  • Apply a force to the front of your chin as to gently glide the chin backwards.
  • Whilst maintaining this pressure, proceed to pull your head forward/down.
  • Aim to feel a stretch at the back of your Upper neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

b) Posterior neck (middle neck)

back of neck stretch

Instructions:

  • Gently tuck your chin in.
  • Look down.
  • Place both hands behind your head and pull your head downwards.
  • Aim to feel the stretch at the back of your Middle neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

c) Sternocleidomastoid

scm stretch

Instructions:

  • Gently tuck your chin in.
  • Rotate your head towards the side that you want to stretch.
  • Tilt your head to the side away from the side you want to stretch.
  • Use your hand to pull your head further into the tilt.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Do both sides.

d) Anterior scalene

anterior scalene stretch

Instructions:

  • Look up and rotate your head to the side.
  • Place your hand on the collar bone on the opposite side to which you have rotated to.
  • Pull the skin on the collar bone downwards.
  • Tilt your head to the side.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Do both sides.

3. Improve spine mobility

If the joints in your neck are very stiff, this may limit the amount of movement in the neck required to do the rest of the exercises effectively.

a) Decompress the sides of the neck

side of neck stretch

Instructions:

  • Slightly lower your head.
  • Tilt your head to the side.
    • (“Ear to the shoulder”)
  • Place your hand on the side of your head and apply a gentle pressure.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Avoid any pinching sensation on the side you are pulling your head towards.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Do both sides.

b) Chin tuck with over pressure

how to fix nerd neck

Instructions:

  • Lie on the floor with your knees bent.
    • Use a thin pillow if required.
  • Tuck your chin in.
  • Place your hands on your chin (see above) and apply a downward pressure.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

c) Neck mobility

chin retraction whilst looking up and down

Instructions:

  • Tuck your chin.
    • (think about the movement as a book sliding back into the shelf)
  • Whilst maintaining this chin tucked position, proceed to look up/down.
  • Ensure that you do not poke your chin out excessively during the movement.
  • As you look upwards, you should feel a “bruisy” (… but not painful!) sensation at the base of your neck.
    • If it is painful, limit the amount you look upwards.
  • Repeat 30 times.

d) Self neck traction

neck traction

Instructions:

  • Tie a resistance band to a stationary object. (Height: ~3-4 feet)
  • Lie on the floor with your knees bent.
  • Wrap the band under the base of the skull.
  • Whilst still holding the band with your hands, slowly shuffle your body away from the anchor point.
  • Let go and let the band pull your head.
  • Move as far away until you can feel a stretch at the back of your neck.
  • Completely relax.
  • Hold for 1 minute.
  • Note: Place a small towel between your head and the band to prevent that hair from being pulled.

4. Chin nods

The following exercises will target the Deep Neck Flexors. These muscles are responsible for maintaining the correct posture of the head and neck.

a) Chin nods (head supported)

chin nod exercise for forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Lie down on the floor with your head supported with a thin pillow.
  • Gently perform a chin nod.
    •  (as if to say ‘yes’).
  • Aim to feel a gentle contraction in the muscles at the back of your throat.
  • Relax your neck muscles as much as possible. You should not feel the muscles at the front of your throat tense up.
    • You can try flattening your tongue to the roof your your mouth to help reduce the tension in the neck.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 30 times.
  • Note: If this exercise is too difficult, start with using a thicker pillow.

b) Chin nod holds (sitting)

nerd neck exercises chin nod

Instructions:

  • Sit up right.
  • Slightly nod your chin downwards.
  • Place a closed fist underneath your chin.
  • Gently push your chin down onto your fist
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Aim to feel a gentle contraction at the back of your throat.
  • Repeat 2-3 times.

5. Chin Tuck

The following exercises will help position your head into the correct alignment.

a) Chin tuck

chin tuck exercise

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting upright, gently tuck your chin in.
    • “Make a double chin.”
  • Aim to feel a gentle lengthening sensation at the back of your neck.
  • Make sure to keep your eyes and jaw level and move the head horizontally backwards.
    • Think of the movement like a book sliding back into the shelf.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 30 times.

As this exercise becomes easier, challenge yourself with the following exercise progressions…

b) Chin tuck (against gravity)

chin tuck against gravity

Instructions:

  • Whilst lying on your stomach and your head off the edge of a bed (as above), continue to gently tuck your chin in as described before.
  • (Since you are moving your head against gravity, there is a greater challenge on your muscles.)
  • Aim to hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.

c) Chin tuck (with resistance band)

exercises to fix nerd neck

Instructions:

  • Apply a resistance band around the back of your neck. (see above)
  • Pull the band forwards as to increase the tension on the band.
  • Proceed to do a chin tuck against the resistance band.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 20 times.

6. Chin tuck and Nod

a) Chin tuck/nod with head lift

strengthening exercise for forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Lie down on your back with your knees bent.
    • (Support your head on a pillow if required.)
  • Gently flatten your tongue to the roof of your mouth throughout the exercise.
    • This will help engage the right muscles in the neck.
  • Tuck your chin in.
  • Nod your chin downwards.
  • Whilst keeping your chin in the nodded position, lift your head off the ground.
    • Imagine you are gently squashing an apple between your lower jaw and throat throughout movement.
  • Lift as high or as low as you are comfortable.
  • Aim to feel the contraction of the muscles at the front of your neck.
  • Hold for 5-10 seconds.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Make sure that you DO NOT let your chin jut forward as you lift your head.
  • Note: If you find this exercise difficult, support the weight of your head with your finger tips.

7. Elongate your neck!

As you go throughout your day, it is important to practice maintaining your head in a more optimal position.

The aim is to:

  • Elongate your neck
  • Reduce compression
  • Eliminate muscle over-activity

To achieve this, think about holding your head this way:

  • “With your chin held in a slightly tucked in position, imagine your head as a balloon that is floating away from your shoulders.”
  • Aim to keep your neck muscles as relaxed as possible.
  • Do not force your head into a position that it can not naturally hold with minimum effort.

8. Forward Head Posture and breathing

The muscles which are predominantly responsible for the forward position of your head are the Sternocleidomastoid and Scalene.

These muscles are also accessory muscles to your breathing.

During relaxed breathing, it is ideal to have your diaphragm muscle as your main breathing muscle.

However, with breathing inefficiencies, these accessory muscles will tend to be over active… which then can lead to a Nerd Neck.

Diaphragmatic breathingdiaphragmatic breathing for forward head posture

Instructions:

  • Assume the position as shown above.
    • Use a pillow for your neck if required.
  • Remember to keep your neck completely relaxed.
    • Gently flatten your tongue up to the roof of your mouth.
    • Keep your mouth closed throughout this exercise.
  • Breathe in: Breathe and expand into your rib cage without flaring out the bottom of the ribs at the front.
    • (“imagine a ring around the lower portion of your rib cage expanding in a 360 degrees direction.”)
  • Breathe out: Slowly push out ALL of the air out of your lungs
    • Your lower ribs should depress and lower back flatten against the floor.
  • Repeat 5 times.

9. Extra tips

a) How to correct Forward Head Posture whilst sleeping

When sleeping on your back – do not use an overly thick pillow as this will push your head forwards.

At the same time – you do not want the pillow to be too thin either as this will provide no support for your neck. (… and may even cause more issues!)

General guideline: Use the thinnest pillow possible whilst still having your neck comfortably supported.

For more information: Best sleeping posture.

b) Use your mobile phone properly

text neck
Optimize your head position by bringing your mobile closer up to your eye level.

c) Workstation ergonomics

It is next to impossible to sit with good posture if your work station is not properly set up.

For more information, check out my free eBook:


d) Minimize breathing through the mouth

Breathing with an open mouth tends to encourage the over-activity of the muscles that are responsible for Nerd Neck.

Keep that mouth closed!

If you have blocked sinuses that make it difficult to breathe through the nose, I would encourage you to get this sorted out as well.

e) Set up your car seat better

car seats bad for posture

Many head rests tend to significantly push your head forwards. (… which I presume is a safety feature of the car?)

It will be challenging… but try your best to adjust your seat to promote a better posture.

10. Address other areas of posture

If you have persisted with the above exercises for at least 3-6 months and have seen minimal improvement in your Nerd Neck, you may need to consider addressing any of the following postural issues:

a) Dowager’s Hump

dowager's hump

The Dowager’s hump is an enlarged prominence that is formed at the lower region of the neck.

(… it’s a big bump that sits at the base of your neck!)

If you have this, it is likely a major factor that is contributing to your Forward Head Posture! (… and is possibly limiting the effectiveness of the exercises.)

For more information: How to fix a Dowager’s Hump

b) Hunchback Posture (Thoracic Kyphosis)

hunchback posture thoracic kyphosis

If the thoracic spine (upper back) is hunched forwards, it can cause the head to poke forwards as well.

For more information: How to fix a Hunchback Posture

c) Rounded Shoulders

rounded shoulders forward head posture

Having Rounded Shoulders is when the resting shoulder position is in front of the mid line of the torso.

Rounded shoulders can pull your head forwards into the Nerd Neck position.

For more information: How to fix Rounded Shoulders

Closing words

When fixing Forward Head Posture (Nerd Neck), I suspect a few of you may get a little bit discouraged in the beginning.

.. and I completely get it.

Your posture might not change as quickly as you’d like it to.

The plain truth is: It takes time to fix your posture.

My intention with this blog post was to provide you with everything that you will ever need to know to completely address this issue.

I hope it serves you well.

All the best!


What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!


About Mark Wong:

Mark is a Physiotherapist who has been helping his patients fix their posture for the past 11 years. He created the Posture Direct blog in 2015 with the goal of helping people fix their own posture.

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604 thoughts on “How to fix Forward Head Posture (Nerd Neck)”

  1. Hi
    I came to it because I was searching for a forward neck stretch as I have been suffering from dizziness the past 6 weeks and the stretches my physio gave me weren’t making much difference. I did the stretches this morning (it was the sub-occipital stretch that my physio had not given me – and the self neck traction) and the dizziness pretty much stopped – I felt a massive difference in just one session! But now I feel kind of wiped out and out of it! Is that normal? Will it pass? And does it mean I was doing something wrong? Should I keep going? How long might this take to resolve so I can get back to normal or at least functional!
    Many thanks for writing that post! I will refer to it again and again!
    Tom

    Reply
    • Hey Tom,

      Sounds like your dizziness might be coming from compression of the Sub-occipitals!

      If you feel wiped out after doing the exercises, you might want to go a bit gentler on the exercises. Perhaps don’t hold the stretch for as long or as intense.

      Your body has been accustomed to this compression for sometime now, so when you all of a sudden release it, you can get some weird reactions!

      It should pass. But if any doubts, please see a professional to get it checked out.

      Mark

      Reply
      • Thank you! That’s really helpful – I’ll definitely take things easier and the dizziness is clearing…slowly. been going on weeks! I’ve just been told by a doctor (GP) that there’s no way neck/vertebra problems can cause dizziness!! It’s so frustrating to be told that when I am sure that’s at least part and probably all of what’s been making me dizzy. (Doctor has no better idea as to what it might be other than ear wax!)

        Reply
        • Hey man, how is this dizziness coming? I have bad posture and text neck and also noticing some dizziness/ vertigo esp when flexing my head down. Neck muscles feel all tight. I’ve been doing some of the above exercises and stretches but still getting a touch of dizziness when looking down or rotating my head. Otherwise it’s just headache behind eyes, neck tension, and just general fog/ out of it.

          Wondering how long till the dizziness fully went away for you.

          Reply
  2. Hi, Mark…ok so have a question regarding head retraction…this exercise has baffled me and plagued me for years because I have not been able to really understand the explanations given on how to perform this correctly often times causing more pain and more forward head…so my understanding is that in forward head the neck/ head are leaning forward and a person will lift their head to see causing the lower area of cervical to be flexed and upper cervical to hyperextend…if this is correct I always asked how and why would a person drive their head horizontally backwards on a neck that is leaning forwards and a head that is leaning back….this just gave me more hyperextension and more pain…however I recently ran into a post on another site that stated the head and upper cervical are retracted together ..this makes better sense to me. I tried it this way and feels this may have been the missing piece…is this what one is doing with retraction? Retracting both the head and upper cervical? This may seem ridiculous …like one doesnt move without the other but I assure you I can pull my head back leaving my neck leaning forward…doesnt feel good but it can be done…and when people call this exercise head retraction that makes it more confusing…If head and neck are retracted together….what musculature of the neck should be doing the retracting… the posterior side or the anterior side? In other words are you pulling the head/neck back with posterior musculature…If so what is purpose of tucking chin if posterior musculature would hold head/neck in a retracted position? are you just trying to hold the head steady with chin tuck and the chin tuck really has nothing to do with the exercise? Please help me understand as I am certain I need this exercise as nose nodding is not helpful if one is still protracted but I am unsure of this no matter how many explanations or videos I see of this….and I have seen a lot

    Reply
  3. Hi Mark, I have anterior pelvic tilt also, so when i am doing number 3’s chin tucks my lower back is arching automatically to compensate the resistance, how can i make sure i don’t arch it?
    Only for the one agains gravity, I found out that if I put a pillow on my belly it slows down the arching.
    But what about the others? Would bending my knees work?

    Reply
    • Hey Adam,

      Looks like there might be some compensation going along there in your lower back.

      Try to depress your rib cage into your pelvis as you perform the chin tuck.

      If you still keep moving your lower back, try to do a half chin tuck and slowly build it up without moving any other body part.

      Mark

      Reply
  4. Hey Mark, I’m a big fan of your articles and resources! They’ve helped me quite a bit to solve some of my back problems and neck pain related to posture, as I spend a lot of time sitting and coding. I just donated to your PayPal!

    I reached out to you through FB message earlier today, but I’m not sure if you check that still. I would love to get your feedback on a physical therapy-related project that I’ve been working on!

    Reply
  5. Hi Mark,

    Great website.. thank you for all the time you’ve put in to it. I did some of the tests you have on the various posture issues and I have several: Forward head, rounded shoulders, Hyperlordosis and (maybe) hunchback.

    My question is …. how to correct? Do I try to tackle these all at once (not sure I have that much time for the exercises in a day), or do one at a time? If so, which would be best to start with?

    Thanks!
    Matt

    Reply
    • Hey Matt,

      My recommendation would be just to focus on 1 area to begin with.

      Which one? You can start on any area. See how far these exercises will take you, then once you feel you’ve done as much as you can, move onto the next area.

      Some people like to start in the area of their pain. That is also fine to do.

      Mark

      Reply
  6. Mark, is there any way I can pay you for a consultation call. Our family is desperate to get our son out of pain. Thanks, Pam

    Reply
  7. Hello Mr Mark,
    I really want to thank you for all of this great information here at this site to help us that need to work on our forward head posture. My question is this. What do you think about incorporating one of those posture correction devices into the mix. You know those figure eight devices you wear around the shoulders? I’m thinking of buying one and would like your opinion on those devices. Like if you think they are worth it or if you know if they do help in fixing forward head posture a.k.a. text neck?

    Reply
    • Hey DMZABO,

      They are fine in the short term but I would advise that you do not become reliant on it to hold your shoulders back.

      This can make your postural muscles weaker in the long term.

      Mark

      Reply
  8. Hello Mark,

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for this amazing website. I have been holding my body in the forward head posture since the birth of my first child and am now on maternity leave with my second, always leaning forward in some way. I am doing your exercises 6 out of 7 days and after 2 week I can definitely feel the difference already and I am more mindful of how I carry my head and shoulders. Thank you for your comprehensive instructions! The best of all is ‘imagine pushing a book onto a shelf’ – I had been doing this exercise wrong for months since my physiotherapist gave it to me and he never corrected it! Your exercises have helped me more than any of the expensive physio sessions I had. I will donate to you with pleasure and am glad to be able to do so.

    Reply
  9. Hi. I’m a 22 years old female from India. Can wearing a ponytail that doesn’t allow you to lean your head back to the wall or any seat or chair that you are sitting on cause forward head posture?

    Reply
  10. Hi Mark,

    Firstly, thank you for a great website. I am 27 years old and I’ve had bad posture since I was a child. I’ve tried with some stretches and the neck releases, massaging the muscles with a ball or my thumbs and I get just a bit nauseous from it.

    Generally, I get very easily carsick (I get dizzy for a couple of minutes after coming off a treadmill) and sometimes at yoga from neck movements or rotating too much when dancing. My mum has vertigo and migraines so I know how it goes. I’ve always assumed that my nausea comes from my balance centre and movement but since I got a bit nauseous from pressing and massaging my neck I’m now wondering if there are some exercises here that I should avoid and/or to carefully choose where to press to not make something in my neck worse?

    Reply
    • Hey Cath,

      Sounds like your body is very sensitive around the neck region.

      I would still continue with all of the exercises, but go like 30-50% intensity. (eg. don’t press to hard, don’t go full range, don’t hold positions for too long) It is likely that your body will need to ease into this program.

      Continue at this intensity for the week, monitor how you are responding and modify as you see fit.

      If the dizziness is quite severe and you are quite concerned, you can go to the doctor for an ultrasound to the arteries in the neck area.

      This is to make sure that there are no potential blockages. (very,very, very rare though!)

      Mark

      Reply

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